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Key Takeaways from InterDrone Las Vegas 2016

Last week, I attended InterDrone 2016, the world’s largest dedicated commercial drone conference with 155 exhibitors and nearly 4,000 visitors from 50+ countries.

I went to InterDrone last year and was blown away. A lot of familiar faces this year, but a lot of new ones as well. I’m waiting on official figures from BZ Media, the team that puts on InterDrone, but during the event I had a chance to catch up with Carl Berndtson, their Director of Global Partnerships, and he noted significant growth on their end, both with conference participants and companies / sponsors exhibiting in the expo hall. As a media partner, I could certainly feel the growth, and I expect there to be even more next year.

The great part about a conference like this is that there’s truly something for everyone. I met people from all breeds of the industry. Drone manufacturers, software companies, accessory companies, training companies, media properties, you name it.

Getting to meet Sally French, AKA http://thedronegirl.com

Getting to meet Sally French, AKA http://thedronegirl.com

I’ve had a few days to digest, and below I wanted to share some of my observations from the conference. I caught up with some industry pals, met a ton of new ones, and learned a LOT about sUAS and the industry in the process.

The sUAS Industry is Booming

OK, this isn’t really news at this point. If you’re reading this blog post, you’re likely already aware of the remarkable growth we’ve seen in the sUAS industry over the last couple of years.

But the general sentiment at InterDrone was…we’re all still growing, really fast. There’s a lot of change ahead.

In his opening address, Ted Bahr, the President of BZ Media and Chairman of InterDrone, joked that if you’ve been flying for 2-3 years, you’re a “grizzled veteran” in the industry.

And in Michael Huerta’s (the Administrator of the FAA’s) keynote address, he spoke of how in the first month of the Section 333 sUAS regulations, there were only 7 authorized operators, whereas the new Part 107 regulations and certification process already boasts thousands of participants. 3,000+ people studied for and took their Aeronautical Knowledge Test the very first day the regulations went into effect, on Monday August 29th, 2016.

Huerta went on to say that the FAA is dedicated to “stop moving at the speed of government,” and I can almost imagine him using this as a mantra with his team in the hallowed halls of the FAA, given the updates we’ve seen just in the last 12 months, from a brand new online registration process to a whole new set of sUAS regulations.

I promise I’ll stop being so U.S.-centric after this point, but it looks like we’ll continue to see regulatory updates over the next few months. Huerta announced that by the end of the 2016 year, he plans to have a proposal out that re-examines what it means to fly over people. They’re also working on another proposal to allow folks to fly BVLOS. It’s unclear how each of these proposals would be integrated into the existing Part 107 waiver request process.

Building a Business? It’s a Lot of Work

I’ve been fortunate to chat with hundreds of sUAS operators over the last couple of years, and too often do I get the feeling that people think they can just buy a drone and then make a lot of money.

It’s like, Phase 1, buy drone. Phase 2, get certified. Phase 3, profit.

Folks, there’s a HUGE gap between Phase 2 and Phase 3, not to mention a considerable amount of learning required to get certified in the first place.

I sat in on Enrico Schaefer’s (of Drone Law Pro) jam-packed session called, Building a Drone Service Company. Everything You Need to Succeed.

A couple of big takeaways from Enrico’s presentation:

  • It’s not just about being a great pilot. It’s about having insurance, setting up the right contracts and agreements with your partners, team members, and clients, developing the appropriate checklists, manuals, and reporting. Everything that you do BEYOND what the FAA simply requires you to do. That’s what’ll set you and your business apart and set you up for long term success.

Hanging out with Enrico Schaefer of Drone Law Pro

Hanging out with Enrico Schaefer of Drone Law Pro

  • It’s not just the FAA. It’s state and local municipality laws as well. Part of your role in this industry is to know everything about the airspace you’re operating in.
  • Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Form a proper business entity. Get your trademarks and copyrights in order. Get insurance. Cover your bases.

Flying is Only 10% of the Operation

I sat in on a session called Post-Production Practices For UAV Footage. The speaker, Douglas Spotted Eagle, is a Grammy recipient and has been a participant / producer on multiple Emmy winning productions, including the hit TV show Lost. He’s become a bit of a UAV geek and thrives in the world of fast-action aerial videography.

One thing he said really struck me.

That when you’re bringing sUAS into your business, whether or not it’s as a cinematographer, a land surveyor, or a roof inspector…operating the sUAS as a Remote PIC, actually flying it, that only represents about 10% of what it is you need to do to be successful.

The other 90%?

Paperwork, researching for and setting up the shoot, traveling, post-processing, client communication, etc.

Seeing him whiz around his video-editing software and talk through the multitude of micro-decisions he makes while editing his raw footage really illustrated how much time is spent beyond the flight itself.

Some of the Companies I Met

With more than 150 exhibitors, a schedule chock-full of engaging lectures and panel discussions (and 1:1 meetings with industry partners and friends), I found the time to go by way too quickly.

But I did get a chance to rub shoulders with a few companies and to learn more about what they’re doing in the sUAS industry.

Verifly – An on-demand drone insurance mobile app that’s shaken up industry with their instant approvals and rates as low as $10/hour. Not a great fit for everyone, but no conversations with brokers, no long applications, and no annual premiums if you don’t want them. A lot of happy users so far.

Skyward – An sUAS flight operations management software, free for one individual user and a GREAT solution for flight planning/airspace research, flight logging, drone tracking, crew member organization, compliance reporting, etc. I’ve been impressed with Skyward’s team for a while now, particularly with their VERY helpful eBooks and webinars and consistent product improvements over the last 6-12 months.

Meeting the team from Skyward.io

Meeting the team from Skyward.io

DroneDeploy – Just raised $20 million in Series B funding. If you plan to do any kind of mapping or modeling work, DroneDeploy seems to be the software of choice for just about everyone I talk to. Use cases include surveying land and monitoring crops, enabling insurance companies to inspect roofs, helping investigators identify shallow graves, monitoring the level of waste in a landfill, flying over plane crash sites, and more.

Zephyr Drone Simulator – A drone-training simulator that doesn’t just give you a few models and open flight environments. They have specific challenges tagged to a learning management system, so educators and trainers can track how students are progressing within the simulator.

Want to attend InterDrone 2017 in Las Vegas?

Click here to get on the InterDrone email list.

Alan Perlman – Alan is an FAA-certified drone pilot and founded UAV Coach in 2014 to help connect drone enthusiasts, to provide world-class sUAS industry training courses, and to help push the drone community forward with a focus on safety and commercial opportunities.

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