Thursday, October 21, 2021

Why We Should Work with China: If We Can’t Beat Them We Should Join Them (Part 1)

As one of the staunchest opponents of working with China this article might seem like a complete 180 degrees from previous articles, but I have changed my mind. As my grandfather used to state “I change my mind often to keep it clean” another result of changing someone’s mind is that new information or data has been presented which lends to the change.

Now that my mind has been changed we have a need for the US to move forward with UAS and that is at an all-time high, we have problems that will not be solved anytime soon while the world passes us by. To help us curb this and overcome our lack to move forward within any amount of reasonable time on such matters as BVLOS, flying cars, UTM and UAM we need to make a choice between doing nothing and pushing forward however slow the process might be or we take advantage of an up and coming aviation giant such as China. To compare China’s growth in aviation we have not built a major airport in a long time, our last was the move of Denver airport and their ongoing upgrades and improvements. China on the other hand has built over 100 Denver sized airports since the 1980’s. This is one of the largest growth markets in the world by many leaps and bounds. China began building Boeing aircraft in the 1980’s and had many problems when they began the first 5 airframes they completed were unusable because they were not straight and true. They needed American engineers and managers to help them complete the aircraft building. Once they got the issues no pun intended straightened out they were well on their way to building good aircraft. China then needed procedural English instructors to teach their pilot workforce how to speak like a pilot, English is the universal language of pilots meaning an Air France airliner landing in China would be speaking English to the airports tower operators. Next China needed pilots, they started their own training program for Chinese citizens, but they began importing pilots from all over the world especially the US who were sought out for their English-speaking abilities. China also sought out consultants to help them cut costs on airline logistics, planning, maintenance, flights, and coordination between workforces. Now China still needs more pilots, but not because of the fledgeling airline business, but because of their growth boom and the sheer volume of airline traffic, they now have. As this history of China’s airlines developed many other countries in the world experienced zero growth and basically have maintained air travel for 3 decades.

We are in the beginning stages of another aviation boom with UAS, this boom failed here in the US because of greed, poor planning, regulatory red tape and a lack of true expertise. Many times, on LinkedIn I would look someone up or receive a new connection from someone you might believe is a UAS expert by a quick glance, but once digging into their profiles many “experts” were complete frauds and only understood very limited aviation and UAS knowledge. Connection requests came from people who were drone experts this year, but less than 2 years ago were in a completely different industry. How many years of practice does it take to become an expert? It really depends on the individual, however a minimal of 10 years in my option to become an expert in a subject. Some subjects lend themselves to expertise in other areas such as doing IT work, you might go from software to hardware in 4 years with a total of 10 years in IT and still claim expertise in hardware.

Aviation is not like any other industry and being a pilot does not make you an expert in aviation nor does it lend itself to expertise any other profession. In turn a UAS part 107 pilot who went to BestBuy bought a Phantom and went out taking pictures or selfies was now claiming expertise in a wide variety of industries, how many people saw this? A part 107 pilot now a GIS expert claiming survey grade measurement without a certification. Also, we saw part 107 pilots who were working at Home Depot a year ago now were security experts who were doing nothing more than flying a drone they bought and not built over areas they probably shouldn’t and claiming to have knowledge of aerial image analysis. None of these self-proclaimed experts had any experience in aviation or the regulations of the air which is covered by the FAA. I still battle occasionally with someone who has a large ego and not a lot of facts, don’t let people push you around with things like military “contracts for $38 million dollars” (a drop in the bucket for a military contract) or “4,000 hours flying Boeings” (that is 4,000 times flying the same computer-assisted machine) and in the flying business airline pilots are known as bus drivers and corporate pilots taxi cab drivers. These inflated egos are what contributed to the era of false expertise.

When we examine a company like DJI who is Chinese sometimes the wealthy and the most profitable business is not the most sustainable look at Kodak and Sears. Once regulations are in place they take an act of Congress to change. As we move forward in the UAS industry we will soon see the changes in operations as they become more aligned to manned aviation, I have been saying this since 2013 basically my day one in UAS, although I had previously 20 years in aviation I was not a drone expert by any means. I went to train on drones with Bert Wagner of Advanced aerials who I still think is one of the best UAV designers and pioneers in the business, selling the first commercial available gimbal back in 1993. In those earlier years’ people tried to sacrifice me for saying drones would be regulated and that you would need to register them, gain a license, insurance and follow a strict airworthiness maintenance schedule. As everyone knows only the illegal operators are making any money in this industry. Outside of the movie industry which is heavily regulated and a tight-knit community of operators the Part 107 pilots that are making all the money are doing it with illegal flights. I know some employees of the FAA are reading this I challenge you to call out these operators with enforcement actions. A few bad apples should not ruin our industry; a few enforcement actions would help to curb the industry and lean it back to doing the right thing and flying legally. What I am saying now is we turn our backs on China we will make a grave mistake

Back to China and what I am saying now is if we turn our backs on China we will make a grave mistake. I was contacted many years ago by a gentleman named Craig Davidenko whose company VTOL Aerospace™ had a flying car (concept) based on NASA engineering who alerted me to the great things going on in China. At first I thought not much can be happening there for innovation they are great reverse engineers, but lack imagination and product creation. Craig told me of the vast cities and how they build infrastructure first, they will build an entire city with buildings, streets and infrastructure then move the inhabitants into the city to populate it. They have entire cities dedicated to specific industries such as drones, innovation and aviation. While attending the sUSB Expo in San Francisco, CA I met with Craig who had some of his business associates from the drone industry of China. They invited me to come over and view their industry first hand, I turned it down because it was during my son’s birthday. Patrick Egan took them up on their offer and has since changed his tune about China. I wondered about China often and thought maybe I was not doing the right thing here, maybe there was opportunity to work with China in a legal and non-compromising of US morals, ethics and values? It was also brought to my attention from the DOD that China is not an enemy, but a competitor and we should think of them as this moving forward.

Recently I was approached again to visit China; I took it as a sign to try to understand their capabilities and for a chance to work together to forward the aerospace industry. I started my research into China and learned not only the vast number of airports they build, but that in the US we have only 10 cities with a population of more than 10 million people. In China, they have +100 cities with more than 10 million, in fact cities around 10 million are probably not considered as a big city there. The sure size and great numbers of people afford the country to have an extremely large work force. I started to have a crazy notion that we could partner with the Chinese in a unified effort to promote aviation. Some might think this idea is crazy, I would like you to think about a few things that might as my grandad said “change your mind” about China. I am in no way promoting that I turn over IP or information that would be compromising to us or that would give them an economic advantage over our country. I am suggesting that we create an aviation summit and envoy with China in which we discuss the various ideas I have for us to work together. I do not believe we will be able to beat China’s aviation industry and will soon be outpaced in less than a few years. My family fought for 8 decades to promote aviation here in the US, things like the recession, sequestration and 9-11 has done a lot of damage to general aviation in this country. General aviation continues to die in this country despite the numbers that the FAA release, I have some ideas to bring it back. However, there are more needy efforts on the forefront and as I grow my influence and various companies I will at some point create a government-sponsored program for individuals to gain their pilots license based off “THE PUTT-PUTT AIR FORCE: The Story of The Civilian Pilot Training Program and The War Training Service (1939-1944)” available online.

What do I intended to do with China now that I have identified that they will outpace us soon in aviation? I am going to urge the Chinese to create a partnership based here in the US as a legal transparent aviation envoy and consortium. If we worked together then China could solve some of the problems, we have here in the US to forward our industry. China is a one-party system and all business is state-sponsored, this scares the heck out of some of my US government friends and industry colleagues. I was also approached by a former commerce department employee who did trade deals with China who expressed his frustration that China is always going back on the deal and that once money was invested would always try to change the terms. I hope to change these ideas and past problems to prosper in a unified effort. I have some concrete ideas that I will present upon my return. I leave for China in 36 hours I might be there by the time you are reading this. Send me some questions and comments to my email.

Email: [email protected]


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Rob Thompson
Rob Thompson is the co-founder of Falcon Foundation, a 3rd generation commercial multi engine pilot, Part 107 holder who also holds a Master of Science from James Madison University for his work in aviation system designs and technical & scientific writing. Falcon Foundation provides leading advocacy efforts in the unmanned aircraft systems industry, managing government relations, committees of association, executing legislative and regulatory strategies and creating law through the corresponding legislative committees. By working independently on advocacy issues, educating the clients on public policy issues quickly, and by engaging team members to facilitate successful results. Client policy issues will include aviation regulation, unmanned aircraft systems, Part 107 waivers, the regulatory process, and industry safety concerns. Client groups include aviation professionals, unmanned aircraft systems, and operators, both commercial and hobbyists, and non-aviation business sectors, including small business service and manufacturing sectors.