What's Wrong with the Drone Industry
The aviation industry has enjoyed a long standing and hard won reputation of exquisite professionalism. Aviators are thought of as expert technicians, trusted decision makers and leaders regardless of the situation. The unmanned aviation industry does not currently enjoy the same public opinion. There is a clear professionalism gap in the drone industry that we as stakeholders must acknowledge, address and close.
Why? The fact is, the industry is immature. Drones are relatively new still, especially small form factor low price point drones. We are in the early days of a new and emerging field not dissimilar to the manned aviation enterprise in the 1920s and 30s. The space is new, it's exciting and it's seeing rapid growth. So why does it have a reputation for being haphazard, careless and more toy than tool? I've identified two key factors:
1. Part 107 is easy. In August of 2016 the FAA produced its now widely discussed Part 107 rule identifying the operating limitations and certificating process necessary for commercial operation. The rule has gone a long way to enabling commercial industry at the cost of setting an extremely low bar. Historically manned aviators have been required to demonstrate both knowledge and practical skill in the form of actual flight evaluations. Part 107 only requires an exam, practical assessment is made of the prospective remote pilot.
2. Equipment is cheap. Manned aircraft are expensive. They are expensive to own, expensive to operate and expensive to maintain. With a credit card, access to the internet and two days' worth of patience, anyone in America can buy a drone capable of taking video in 4k for less than $1,000. The availability of inexpensive but capable aircraft is a democratizing movement in the industry that maintains the low barrier to entry the FAA has set with Part 107.
What does all this mean? It's easy to be good enough to get into the commercial drone space, but it is still hard to be good at commercially flying unmanned aircraft. This business is still subject to the same forces manned aviation is. Pilots, remote or otherwise, are still required to juggle dozens of competing interests in a world where everything is relative and nothing is free.
The way forward is clear - we must professionalize our industry. At HAZON Solutions we apply manned aviation principles to our procedures and policies. We still use checklists, we have emergency procedures, we maintain logs and records of our training, our flights and our maintenance. It is important now to have high standards, it will grow more important as Part 107 evolves. BVLOS operations, flight over people, package delivery and truly integrated operations in controlled airspace will demand increased attention to detail and processes that are safety oriented, executable and grounded in the lessons of 115 years of manned aviation operations.