The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced rule changes for the commercial use of unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAV). For companies like AboveNV the changes allow them to significantly expand business plans in northern Nevada.
Kirk Ellern, one of AboveNV’s co-founders, explained in a phone interview with NNBW how implementing the new Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), Part 107, will benefit their business.
“We are a full-service drone company. Meaning, we design them, we build them, we fly them and we teach people about them,” Ellern explained.
The new Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Part 107, includes pilot and operating rules. Prior to the FAA outlining these rules, which will be effective on Aug. 29, the regulations were unclear at best.
Previously, drones were treated like anything else under FAA rules and required a licensed pilot in order to operate. Part 107 defines a professional drone pilot and a new class of pilot licensing: a remote pilot certification.
Prior to Part 107, it was largely illegal to fly a drone professionally unless a Section 333 Exemption was obtained. Rules such as requiring a professional licensed pilot to be present made commercial drone operations difficult from a business stand point.
“We have been waiting for the FAA to give us federal permission to fly near the airport,” Ellern said. “Under the new rule, we simply have to have an agreement with the Reno Airport, we don’t need the FAA’s Washington bureau to review every airspace we are going to be in.
“It simplifies the system.”
Part 107 puts commercial drone pilots on notice of the rules, requires them to pass a test, and establishes that it is their fault if they break the rules. However, the punishment for not following the rules remains unclear. Flying recklessly already results in expensive fines but time will tell what other punishments, if any, the FAA puts in place for UAV.
“Our intended customers are state and federal agencies, such as the BLM, Department of Agriculture, Nevada Department of Transportation, etc. Those entities cannot break the rules, and cannot operate with somebody that breaks the rules,” Ellern explained regarding what has been a slow process.
The drone industry had cooled off partially due to investors not wanting to invest in a company where the rules were not defined.
“Now we have the rules, at least that removes the concern from our potential investors,” Ellern said.
Moving forward, Part 107 means growth for businesses like AboveNV.
“Come August when Part 107 is implemented, we will go from one pilot to seven, because everybody in the office will be able to fly once they pass the test,” Ellern said. “We are all good at flying, but only our licensed pilot could fly (commercially before the new regulations).”
Ellern highlighted the BLM as an example of growth moving forward. In the past, they had one crew they could send out to start collecting data. Come August they will be able to have multiple crews collecting data via drones.
“We are going to start hiring more employees. We are going to look at our work load and adjust accordingly,” Ellern said.
His background as a teacher has allowed AboveNV to create a program that will get somebody from, “just about zero to ready to fly in about one week’s time.”
“That includes the test as well as being responsible (with a drone) in the field,” Ellern said.
He also strives to educate the public on the value of drone use and works on programs to get drones and writing code for them into the schools.
While the new regulation opens possibilities for AboveNV to expand its operations, it doesn’t solve all the issues.
“Here is the problem that we ultimately have; the things you can do with a drone are many and nobody currently understands what you can do with them.”
AboveNV strives to create different tools for agriculture and habitat management.
“We can fly sensors that the naked eye can’t use,” Ellern said.
One of AboveNV’s main focuses in its work with drones is to collect data, but Ellern emphasized, “there is no product without the analysis.”
One of the company’s focuses is sage grouse habitat, which is in 11 western states.
“Our focus right now is The Great Basin; from here to Salt Lake, north of Boise and south of Las Vegas. But, we are an international company when it comes to it.”
“In the short term, at least my vision is we really want to focus on customer’s needs. The customers we understand the best live in Nevada,” Ellern stated.
“Drones are going to completely change a lot of things.”