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As I reflected on my recent participation at the InterDrone event in Vegas, I was surprised that it had only been in existence for three years. The sessions and exhibition hall were packed, and everyone was friendly and energized. But beyond the many exhibitors, panels and sessions, I found some key learning points about the drone industry, namely:
FAA regulations for the drone industry are a major focus. Some of these regulations deal with the aircraft itself, the distance they can travel, their ability to avoid obstacles, and their air worthiness, which are based on standards that haven’t even been developed yet! There is so much training that needs to take place and questions arose on how the training will be tracked? Some claim that the FAA is not keeping pace with international regulations already underway. One thing was abundantly clear – there is a major need for pre-flight and flight assessments.
Having the ability to be certified beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) is yet another hurdle and many believe it will be a long time coming. To have this flexibility, drones need to be able to fly higher, further and longer to enable BVLOS. Additionally, the need for ground-based sense and control systems and radar to track individual drones is a costly endeavor, estimated at $3 million for a single craft from one vendor. It’s still too early to tell if BVLOS will be delivered directly by the manufacturers or through flight service providers. This type of certification is required for distance projects, like assessing a pipeline or railroad for example. The FAA has developed Part 107 certification, however it’s not enough and will require new certifications to address safety and security challenges.