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Perspective From a Publically-Traded UAS Company

By Luke Geiver | March 04, 2015

AeroVironment Inc., the publically traded designer and manufacturer of several unmanned aircraft systems and platforms to large-scale entities (foreign governments, U.S. military installations, industrial clients), recently held an earnings call. Tim Conver, chairman and CEO, addressed several topics, including the company’s perspective on the growth of the commercial UAS industry.

The basis of that perspective stems from AeroVironment’s work in Alaska with BP. Through a partnership that included an FAA exemption, the company worked to demonstrate how its UAS could monitor BP’s oil and gas pipeline assets in Alaska. Following that work, BP has decided to integrate UAVs into its operations, and, according to Conver, AeroVironment has responded to multiple requests from entities located within and outside of Alaska. “We expect to expand beyond Alaska,” he said.

The expansion plans could be massive, if Conver’s take on the commercial UAS industry are correct. The number of opportunities is dramatic for a company capable of providing a high-level of research and development services combined with proven UAV platforms and UAS operations, Conver said. Work in Alaska, “supports our view that there are significant economic returns for companies that adopt this capability.”

To expand outside of Alaska, AeroVironment will look to large-scale, industrial clients such as those in the oil and gas or global agriculture industries. To date, the company has logged more than 1 million operating miles. “We believe that many industries will come to depend on UAS,” Conver said.

Large enterprises such as BP are also interested in using platforms suitable for all conditions. According to Conver, the use of rotorcraft platforms is great for digital image capture during pleasant days, but robust UAVs capable of operating in all conditions are wanted and needed by large-scale clients.

The recently released Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration was a great start to ramping up commercial operations in the U.S., Conver also said, but limiting operations to line-of-sight will drastically reduce the opportunities and abilities afforded to clients who implement UAS into their respective operations.

Regardless of the FAA’s rulemaking process, it was clear that AeroVironment’s status will remain positively linked to the commercial UAS industry within the U.S.