NOTE Keynote starts at 04:25

You’ve got to love the gruff, gravelly tone of one of the industry’s fiercest advocates and leading critics.

Portrait of Patrick EganNot to suggest that Patrick (aka @dronedealer) is old, but it is important to recognize that the 12 years he has been involved with drones and the FAA gives him a certain gravitas. Few have his perspective about the hidden workings of that lumbering bureaucracy, or his passion for the future of the industry.
If you don’t know him, he is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series.
This morning finds him in San Francisco opening the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition (sUSB), a role that he clearly relishes. I have pulled out a few comments, the entire presentation is well worth your time if you would like a taste of real politik to wash down the hype and hoopla. On a macro level I took three
things away:
  1. There really isn’t an industry. Rather it’s a bunch of special interests, each of whom is primarily interested in their piece of the pie.
  2. Consumer (OEM) manufacturers do not understand the regulatory environment and what is required to successfully work with the FAA.
  3. People continue to steadfastly believe that drones are not aircraft, and so are not subject to the rules of the NAS. They are wildly (and unduly) optimistic that Part 107 will remove the existing restraints. The concept of a “reality distortion field” is offered to those who will appreciate the Jobsian reference.

Egan 1

 

Patrick begins with the results of a UK survey, noting that if 58% (effectively 2/3rds) of all respondents are freaked out about drones, the industry has a PR problem. Which sets up his premise that yes indeed the industry does have a PR problem and
here’s “why”.
Patrick Egan Industry False Claims slide
“Why” starts with this list of Claims that Patrick takes great delight in deconstructing. I was glad to see him raise his hand at the notion of FAA Certified training – an absurd statement that has long puzzled me – how can you provide training for something that doesn’t exist?
He is very clear that “drones are not birds which have an innate instinct to survive and are not made of metal”, wonders why people insist on flying at airports when the whole point of a drone is that you don’t need an airport, debunks the notion that any smart phone app could stand-up to the rigors of ATC and no Lucinda, technology does not always win.
Patrick Egan QA QC slide
He next takes aim at the manufacturers who in their rush to market skip by QA/QC processes. The whiteboard is a bit hard to read so let me help, the red lines show “blame” and the green “lies”. As has been suggested elsewhere, your shiny new drone is what aerospace firms call a “test article” which makes you the test pilot.
At 17:50 Patrick describes the reaction to his recommendations to manufacturers that they spend more investing in testing than in going to exotic locations to make sexy videos as being met with the shrug of a shoulder and the belief that the FAA will do the testing. To which he asked “who do you want to ask the questions?”
He uses the Gartner Hype Cycle (not shown) to talk about the hype and hoopla, then makes the very subtle point that a lot of business plans were predicated on the FAA making their September 2015 mandate. Which of course didn’t happen (there is a certain implied “told you so.”) As a result, companies are now running out of money as expected sales have failed to materialize.
He then goes on to lambast the 250gm (aka hamburger) rule which he says was based on a DoD study showing that getting hit on the head with a 250gm steel munition could be fatal – which is not the question at hand.
At 15:30 he addresses the Category 2 provision of the proposed Micro Arc rule which states that the manufacturer must certify to the FAA that their product complies with industry consensus standards. He points out that the attempt to define industry consensus standards takes years and flatly states that “I do not believe that people in the consumer drone industry, the OEMs, understand what certification means.”
It is easy to imagine the sound of pigs at the trough promising anything in the hopes of a short-term sales bump that “will give us time to figure this out…”

Patrick Egan Intellectual Honesty slide

I think that we have to be accountable as an industry. We can’t be making false claims. We have to be responsible. We have to take the lead in our own future.

There are other people already in the NAS. There’s the GA people, the 121 people, the 135 people. There’s hang gliders, balloonists, everybody else. The NAS already has rules. So the drone community, we’re the new kid on the block. We have to prove as a community that we understand what that means.

Patrick Egan Optics slide

Heading into his close, Egan is absolutely blunt. “I do not believe that this community has any qualified representation at this point.” Doesn’t get much plainer than that.
Under the concept of Harmonization, he makes another subtle point. In the EU and other parts of the world (he says EU, I say Canada anyone?) the CAA (civil air authority) certifies pilots and drone operations, whilst in the US the 333 process exempts companies from the prevailing law.
He winds up with a heartfelt pitch for small business and jobs.
An impressive and thoughtful performance.

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