Arizona UAS event reveals changes coming to industry

By Luke Geiver | November 07, 2017

The unmanned aircraft system industry—from the type of company operating today to regulation creation—is rapidly changing. This was part of the message delivered by Brian Wynne, president and CEO for the Association of Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) to attendees of the second Arizona UAS Summit & Expo. Held in Mesa, Arizona, the second-year event has provided attendees with expert insight and perspective on various drone-related topics including new unmanned aircraft traffic management systems, drone swarm algorithms, lessons learned from first responders using UAVs in conjunction with hurricane relief efforts, manufacturing possibilities for U.S. firms looking to tap into Mexican resources, and a wide range of other topics.

Perspective from Brian Wynne:

Before heading to Seattle to lead a meeting with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Drone Advisory Council, Wynne stopped in Mesa to explain what his team is seeing in the industry. Fresh off a major press conference for the Department of Transportation’s new initiative to get state governments, industry partners and UAS research and testing in unison, Wynne went through the positives of the DOT’s new UAS pilot program. “The program has gotten a lot of people’s attention,” he said, noting that although his team knew how the White House felt about furthering drone usage and commercialization in the U.S., “they rolled out a welcome mat to industry.”

Wynne and his team are excited to help state groups or others find ways to participate in the DOT’s pilot program. Although AUVSI fought to get funding for the initative, the initial cost of any research or work will fall on the participating entities. But, the results of the program will give the FAA more data and a real framework of how to begin to allow flights over people, fly beyond visual line of sight or perform routine missions at night. For Wynne, the program will highlight the opportunity that states have to help shape the national approach to UAS regulation, but it will also reveal the challenges of bringing states into the decision-making framework. While Wynne and his team want local governments to be involved in the process, he also wonders if small cities are prepared to be airspace managers for UAS. Regardless of the challenges, he believes the pilot program is what is needed to move the industry forward.

First Responders Gain Understanding of UAS:

Joe Talley, a former military member well-versed in UAS operations, provided input on what his peers in the first response, law enforcement, search and rescue and firefighting sectors have learned about UAS following multiple hurricanes or the California wildfires. Talley agreed with the sentiment that Hurricane’s Harvey and Irma will be remembered as a launching point for greater drone usage. To highlight his agreement with that ideal, Talley relayed information on the number of emergency authorizations given out by the FAA to UAS operators during recent natural disasters. During Harvey, 154 emergency authorizations were issued. For Irma, the number was 18 and for Maria, it was 14. The California wildfires yielded 15 emergency authorizations, all mainly from sheriff departments. The numbers help to show that UAVs are now becoming a mainstay of SAR and first response efforts. According to Talley, many first responders are now considering acquiring images via drone of their regions. Having before-incident images to compare with images post disaster can be a huge help in relief efforts.

Input from the FAA:

Ken Kelley, a 25-year FAA representative that is on the Safety Program team, walked the crowd through the new low altitude authorization and notification capability (LAANC) app that the FAA is now using to allow UAS operators faster access to the skies. The system enables efficient notification and authorization services to small UAS operators. For the event, Kelley performed a series of tests with ATC managers in Reno. When Kelley asked the crowd if they were happy with the LAANC system, many quickly responded with positivity, one attendee saying that he “loved it.”

Kelley also reminded the crowd that anyone going through the flight application process should work to be as accurate as possible and not to ask for too much. If a flight only needs to fly at 75 feet, an applicant shouldn’t ask to fly 575 feet, he said. Doing so will likely result in a rejection to the flight application.

Kelley and the FAA also said they want all UAS operators to remember that they are always educators and, given the chance, they should explain their operations to the public any chance they get. The FAA is also working to change one of their more recent educational approaches. Instead of using the slogan “No Drone Zone,” to indicate an area to civilians regarding certain airspaces, Kelley said the FAA wants to tweak the phrase to “No Unauthorized Drone Flights,” to better reflect the reality that certain drone operators may actually have permission to fly during wildfires or other instances when a “No Drone Zone” would be inaccurate and cause frustration or panic among witnesses or people in the area of a no fly zone that are seeing operators fly drones in what might appear to be off-limits to all.