Drone Training – The Beginning or the End?

#1 – Background to where we are today

In the first of a series of articles looking at the drone training industry, we offer a background to the drone training industry and thereafter move over the next series of articles to offer a viewpoint from where we started with drone training to where we are now, and finally where should the future of drone training move in the future in the transition to greater automation and increased volume of usage.  

The narrative has been centred around the UK industry primarily as a result of its greater maturity from an industry development perspective, although UK regulations are likely to change in the near future, but holds true for the wider EU and USA as they contemplate their own regimes – most notably under EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations respectively, and some of the wider initiatives in those countries for instance in the USA the AUVSI Trusted Operator Program.

UK Legislative History

The existing training structure seen in the United Kingdom has been around for over 7 years following guidelines that were set up in 2010 by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).  What was initially catered for was

the introduction of small unmanned aircraft (SUA) mainly within the model flying category (i.e. not drones) where the legal intent was the management of a small number of entities operating SUA.  With incremental clarifications of the law via several acceptable means of compliance that have been developed from the CAA – most notably CAP722 (Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace – Guidance) for example, this approach has been moderately successful in establishing between three and five thousand commercial operators in the United Kingdom.

Strategic Development by Government

At this current stage of the drone industry, most companies are predominantly Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs), although some early adopter media organisations have up to 30 pilots and other pilot teams are embedded within much larger corporations or have been subcontracted to provide a Drones-as-a-Service as a part of a Framework Agreement e.g. Network Rail.

To enable the exponential growth of the drone industry as a part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, which includes robotic autonomous systems, the Government needs to find a solution to enable beyond visual line of sight (BVLoS) operations routinely.  This is the roadmap where technology is moving and where perception lies for the realisation of the full potential of drones.  Whether you are convinced by this case is another matter – this is, however, the current approach.

One variation to this that considers a more integrated approach including data is that of the Flying High Challenge via NESTA , bringing together local citizens, public services, businesses, regulators and technology to make drones work for the common good.  

BVLoS Challenge

If we consider one of the challenges to operating BVLoS with existing legislation as it stands is that of technology, what is the likelihood that any drones would be flown manually using off-the-shelf solutions from manufacturers such as DJI?  Future drone solutions are now being tasked with more complex requirements, or are being asked to perform different tasks, for example, confined space work.  Therefore what approach do we take to enable what is a complex solution?

Existing Applicability of Drones in Industry

According to the EU European Drones Outlook Study, the application of drones in industry extends to many sectors.   These are often referenced in many a drone operators website, which does a disservice to the specialization each one actually needs;

  • Close industrial work
  • Humanitarian operations
  • Oil and gas industry
  • Wind turbine industry
  • Precision agriculture

To progress further in each specialization, we need to ascertain the requirements on a pilot and the demands on the system, so that the overall safety performance can be compared to that of manned aviation should BVLoS be the aspiration.  If drones are to be operated in an unsegregated airspace, adhering to manned aviation safety standards is the benchmark to which drone operations will be assessed.

Summary

There are a number of commercial and economic drivers, from both industry and government that demand drones to be operated beyond existing legislative capabilities that were drawn up at a time when the explosion of drones to its current state was not foreseen.

So how does the training aspect of the industry adapt to stay relevant and agile within an overall strategic framework?  In Part 2 we look at how the industry is currently looking to achieve this and whether there is a requirement or need to have any training at all?

Consortiq are a UK National Qualified Entity (NQE) and the training lead on the USA AUVSI Trusted Operator Program (TOP) Committee, alongside their CQNet software and consultancy services.  If you would like to explore what they can offer to your organization, email: [email protected]

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