Forget What You Know About UAS

Exemptions, commercially operated small unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) and iconic large UAVs are proving that what we thought we knew about the UAS industry in the first quarter of 2015 has changed.
By Luke Geiver | April 19, 2015

The first 99 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) companies or entities to receive a Section 333 exemption—a regulatory necessity provided by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration allowing for the commercial use of UAS—will forever be remembered. Our UAS Magazine team has made sure of it. For our second quarter issue, we crafted an infographic to display the number and type of unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV) that received an exemption through April 3, along with the entities’ titles and their respective UAS application plans. The effort was rewarding, as we believe you’ll see on page 16. The two-page spread, complex and requiring many iterations––we almost scratched it  altogether––ultimately tracks the UAS industry’s evolution to the present. 

Through March, 68 UAS firms capable of running commercial options were granted exemptions. The jump of exemptions––from 19 in February to 30 in March––at the time, seemed to show true progress in the industry. Looking back, our team was excited to display such an increase through the timeline created by our graphic designer. Then came April, and by April 3, the FAA suddenly changed everything; it provided as many exemptions in three days as it had for all of March. The barrage of exemptions forced us to rethink the information we had intended to display on the two-page spread because the high number of commercial UAS firms approved held more data than we had page space for.

Our Q2 glimpse of the UAS industry offers a unique, fitting and, if nothing else, lucky, description of how rapidly the industry is changing. In Q1, the mood of the UAS world was frustration, but our documented snapshot of 99 UAV firms shows that the industry has a real backbone. And, the best news is not the information we included, but what we did not. Since this issue went to print, it’s safe to say that following the number of newly exempted companies we include in Q3 UAS Magazine, we will use the same comment we used to end our company list: To be continued.

Along with the infographic, Staff Writer Emily Aasand tells the stories of several small UAV companies working to find a financial foothold. Her story yields a stark reminder about UAV platforms and the perspective of end-users looking to UAVs for future use. Regardless what small UAV providers believe, they will be best served to remember, as Ernest Earon, president of sUAV firm PrecisionHawk, told her, “Our customers don’t want planes, they don’t want pictures, they want answers.”

To address the major industry issue of sense-and-avoid, Staff Writer Patrick Miller reached out to NASA and General Atomics for his story, “Transforming Our Perception Of Drones.” He learned about the collaborative effort between the two major aeronautical mainstays involving a large UAV that, until now, has been known as the icon associated with drones.  Their work could be a precedent-setting, sense-and-avoid testing effort or a new safety option for both manned and unmanned aircraft. But most importantly, perhaps, it will likely positively transform our perceptions of the entire UAS industry with every flight hour recorded daily by UAVs of all sizes.

Luke Geiver
Editor, UAS Magazine
lgeiver@bbiinternational.com