Over the last two years I have been in quite a good vantage point to observe the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Of course developments in the military sphere have evolved quickly as one would expect when they are backed by the United States during times of conflict.
But, why has one area in this field, namely the commercial sector and arguably the largest, failed to flourish in the United States when in other parts of the world it is slowly gaining momentum? Having been back in the UK for two months, after a rather lengthy six years in the USA, I have been amazed by the CAA's pragmatic, safe approach to integrating this new industry into the national airspace. It's not often that the UK leads the way in a new technological concept, but when it comes to small unmanned aerial vehicles (SUAS) they have to be applauded for their forward thinking. This has allowed an up and coming (and unstoppable) industry to move forward, get a foothold and grow, thus helping the end customer and ultimately the economy.......................
There is an apprehension and misunderstanding amongst a vast amount of the population when the word 'drone' is mentioned and this is reinforced by the press. A lot of people believe that UAV's are utterly automous and fly around striking arbitrary targets with very little human interaction, from experience I know this couldn't be further from the truth. There is also the privacy factor where people think they will be constantly spied upon, yes I suppose it's a concern of a UAV at the window but it would be exactly the same (to a degree) of a guy with a Go-Pro on a rather long stick. One issue which should be more disconcerting is if a small UAV crashed or flew into a manned vehicle, and that is what I believe the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of the USA are most scared of.
Yet in all things that aviate there is an element of risk, when the Wright Brothers first flew in Kittyhawk and when Lindbergh first flew across the Atlantic in 1927 the odds didn't look good. The key is to limit the amount of risk, learn from past problems and evolve so the probability of being injured is less than being hurt eating a bag of peanuts. Which is why I'm proud of how the CAA have tackled this problem and I'm bemused at how the FAA just don't get it. The UK has some of the most congested airspace in the world but providing you do the right course, pass the right exams and get approval from the CAA you can go off with your little Quadcopter, fly within the limits stipulated and make a living. In the US, despite having the amount of airspace that would make a British pilot wet, this is not the case. If what I've read is to be believed, the general populous think if the FAA created similar rules to what the CAA has the sky would turn black with UAV's over night as swarms of individuals and companies try to cash in, making the airspace not a very safe place to dwell for too long. But I believe the opposite to be true. If you look what has happened in the UK you will discover that the sky hasn't turned black, that UAV's are not falling out of the sky and that my neighbor is not getting spied upon as she comes out of the shower. What it has cleverly done is repel the average Joe from buying a cheap platform and go and seek his fortune. How? Simply by putting in stiff regulations, consequences and most of all training and enlightenment. The training involves a slightly expensive course, followed by creating an operations manual and finally a flight exam before you can get a permission for aerial work (PFAW). There are ways of applying directly to the CAA for this PFAW but if you have no aviation experience you may as well buy a Euromillions lottery ticket. Along with maintaing a flying hours log, a battery log, maintenance log and all the usual aviation admin that we've had to put up with in our flying careers it has all has ultimately turned industries into outsourcing specialist UAV companies to do their work for them. That is not to say that a farmer or an estate agent would be hopeless at flying a drone (and a lot do quite successfully) but with all the trivia and extra things to think about they have nor the time or the inclination to do it themselves. But why should they!? I could quite easily scale up a ladder with a bucket and sponge and clean my windows (and I would probably do a half decent job) but to be quite honest I can't be bothered and I would much rather employ a window cleaner.
So maybe, just maybe if the FAA took a leaf out of the good old British book of common sense it would dissuade the brigands of Phantom pilots who want to film their house or a promotional showreel and they will bypass the hobby shop and speak to a professional legal UAV operating company.