The FAA Loosened Commercial Drone Restrictions: But What Does That Mean?
Earlier this summer the Federal Aviation Administration eased restrictions on commercial drone use with the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (more commonly known as the Part 107 ruling.)
Not being drone/aerial experts ourselves, we tapped Ali Ahmadi, the co-founder & CMO of AirZaar, a software platform for drone operators and their customers to help us walk through what the new ruling means.
Ahmadi has a degree in Aeronautics engineering, has military experience building drone simulations and is an active member of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Association.
When your average/non-industry person thinks of drones, they might picture someone standing with a remote control flying it above. Can you talk a little as to operationally what makes commercial drone usage different from recreational use?
Unfortunately, public opinion of UAV’s is “Amazon Delivery” or some kid standing with a remote control flying a quadcopter. People that don’t understand the commercial UAV industry almost always think about camera’s above their head taking picture or video’s. Contrary to popular belief, commercial UAV operations are looking at data that is way more sophisticated that just taking pictures!
Operationally, almost all commercial UAV’s are now flown autonomously with a pre-loaded flight path and waypoints for the purpose of the data that is to be acquired. Rarely, would you need to go into manual mode to fly with the controller.
What do you think led to the FAA loosening restrictions for commercial drones?
The FAA was being pressured from both the commercial side & the academic/innovation side of many industries. Believe it or not, the U.S. is way behind many countries in the world including multiple Asian countries in the use of UAV’s for commercial purposes. This was all directly related to the FAA regulations that were restricting this space.
Critical infrastructures around the world are being inspected via UAV’s without putting workers lives in danger. For example: Energy/Utility companies are using UAV’s for purposes of inspecting high voltage transmission lines & towers, Bridges & cell-towers around the world are being inspected by UAV’s, Farmers are using UAV’s for multiple in-season farm-management decisions…We can go on for days on the use cases.
Here are some common use cases of the commercial drone industry:
- Quarry 3D modeling of benches
- Optimizing bench blast designs
- Stock pile management
- Geophysical & watershed/catchment area modeling
- Leach pad, dam wall & platform construction quality control
- Progress monitoring & reporting
- Feasibility studies
- Vegetation health analysis
- Biomass estimation
- Fire detection & tracking
- Storm damage assessment
- Planting / re-planting campaign planning
- Deforestation / illegal logging
- Erosion monitoring
- Storm damage assessment
- Volume estimation
- Beach replenishment planning
River & flood assessment
- River mapping & modeling
- Erosion monitoring
- Flood damage assessment
What do you think are the biggest ramifications of Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107) on the commercial drone industry?
The biggest change is the removal of the “pilot license” requirement for operating a UAV for commercial purposes. The other major part is the removal of the requirements to apply for a FAA 333 Exemption. The biggest effect of this new rule is the removal of barriers for entry into this market. According to the FAA:
“The rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years” https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=20515
The impact could be greatly seen in many areas. A whole new category of jobs & skills will be opened up & the barrier for enter the market is low.
Talk a little about AirZaar.
AirZaar is a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) platform providing commercial drone fleet management, aerial data analytics & compliance solutions for enterprises who rely on data acquired by drones to make actionable decisions.
AirZaar’s platform allows enterprises with an internal or external drone team streamline the relationship between drone operators and their clients.
The turnkey solution maximizes drone services ROI for the operators and enterprise customers enabling growth, revenue generation and cost reduction measures.
How do the new rules affect you?
The market has opened up & AirZaar has strategically positioned itself to be a hardware agnostic company so that it easily adapts to the rapidly evolving hardware side of the commercial UAV industry.
The new rules allow small or large enterprises with UAV use cases implement this technology with lesser pain points.
It’s come to the point that we see companies that are still stuck in old technologies are now panicking to implement their own UAV program. It’s inevitable that UAV’s will create significant ROI for many industries & be their competitive advantage.
Some companies decide to be on the leading-edge of technology in their industry & other companies decide to be followers.
The Department of Transportation Secretary mentioned when the legislation was announced that drones are less risky than manned aircraft; can you speak to that sentiment a little?
Manned aircrafts are bound by many human-related factors for flight safety purposes. Each human behaves differently. UAV’s are designed to remove the human error element & each hardware has its own behavior patterns. As the industry grows the UAV’s will be getting smarter & smarter, therefore, reducing human error factors.
To people not in the industry that might be hesitant of seeing more drones out, for privacy, safety reasons specifically, what would you say to assuage them?
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford “Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday” – Steve Jobs
What do you think the future of specific regulations, namely flying at night and crossing over people’s heads is?
I believe the “flying at night” regulation will be the next lifted regulation. Since there are many tools to rectify the visibility of a flying object. The crossing over people’s heads will take a little longer. The current technologies need a period of maturing to get to the point for safe flying over people’s heads.
What about this industry are you most excited about as you look to the next year or so?
My biggest excitement is seeing more & more industry end-users asking the AirZaar team for educational sessions for understanding of the commercial UAV industry. Our clients have spanned between mining, energy, utility, construction to many other industries.
With the expansion of the commercial UAV industry, we are seeing more & more on-line training institutions offering classes to help interested individuals become commercial UAV qualified.
Due to my past military & DOD experience, I’m also excited to see the commercialization of ex-military technology & the reduction of pricing point in these remote sensory devices. The hardware industry is evolving so fast that it has become hard to keep up with the advancements (Hence, why AirZaar was built as a hardware agnostic software solution).