Drone Training – The Beginning or the End? Article #4
In the last two articles, we considered what the role is likely to be of a drone pilot given the dual challenge of regulation and technology and the distinct possibility of a move to becoming a systems operator, with a functional understanding of aviation.
In this fourth article, we look at how the drone training market is responding to this challenge, and whether, it is the correct one given where the industry is heading.
Are Standards Bodies Tackling the Wrong Issues?
For an innovative and disruptive technology, the adoption and subsequent adaptation of training guidelines within that market by regulatory and standards bodies will always be one of the key challenges to get right. Some trade organisations or associations are considering within their standards criteria the value of the ability to perform manual flight as a precursor to receiving their approval. Given the technological advancements as mentioned in previous articles with GPS-only mode, sense-and-avoid technology aided by computer vision, is this a relevant approach?
Despite this, there is a genuine question surrounding how we bridge the gap safely and get buy-in from enterprise-grade organisations in judging the risk from using automatic solutions versus manually flown operations. Particularly, as a number of these organisations come from a safety and risk-based culture and need confidence in any product or service. Consider some of the recent challenges that the consumer drone market leader DJI has faced in its approach to data, for example in the USA.
Contradiction and Confusion in Training
The factors discussed in previous articles have therefore created the juxtaposition of regulatory authorities looking to mandate less training yet standards bodies creating additional hurdles to become approved operators. With existing CAA approved training courses becoming a race to the bottom in price as their numbers increase, where is the business case for an organisation or training body to invest the time and effort for a smaller pool of operators?
Furthermore, which organizations are going to aspire to achieve this extra standard if there is no compulsion on its members to adopt those companies to perform the drone operations, when the criteria themselves are not necessarily fit for purpose? In addition, if the barrier to achieving a criterion is too challenging, it is possible that only one or two well-funded operators will meet any such criterion. They will then by default create a monopolistic environment, potentially stifling creativity and innovation in a disruptive arena.
What becomes more important than any training is ensuring conformance of the operator when they are in the field. The current legal situation in the United Kingdom that itself will become superseded by EASA laws in future involves a Flight Assessment to gain regulatory approval. Once gained, the process of renewal becomes a paper-based exercise to retain a commercial permission without any further display of flying competence, other than the renewal of the Operations Manual and a logbook of recent flights. What gives clients the greatest confidence is when organisations can produce evidence of training from the first principles up to the operational delivery of those standards.
Evolution of Drone Training
Drone training must evolve to accept the automated nature of drone development and to interface training with specific skills, such as flying, hazard perception, processes and procedures, and a just culture. It is also important to develop the skills to be able to document these aspects (i.e. hazards, procedures, etc.) during drone operations so that these can be inspected by clients, authorities, and auditors. Integrating training with operational delivery, via software management to assure past, present and future conformance is the way forward as we move towards an automated environment rather than an isolated skillset.
However, this is a much more complex proposition than a simple industry-specific training course or a regulatorily required training course. It is currently incumbent on organisations, both in America and the UK, to put together these elements to find a satisfactory output that they can then present to regulators, insurers, and their own management to be able to make a robust safety case. For example, to gain BVLoS approval is still nearly impossible to achieve on a permanent basis as the confidence by the stakeholders listed above has still not been sufficiently demonstrated to satisfy the Operational Safety Cases being presented.
To make any drone training financially viable to the industry it must deliver value to those taking the training. What is concerning is the lack of integrated solutions on offer as what needs to be factored ultimately is the Return on Investment (ROI), not just on the training outlay, but also on the business transformation drones will deliver to the client themselves. It’s a complex offering enterprises will have to become accustomed to, in order to help determine if additional non-mandatory training standards are worth the extra investment as a standalone product.
The final article in this series looks at the manufacturers and their current approach to training.
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]