Drone CEOs left the White House feeling bullish after meeting with POTUS and senior administration officials where, in the words of one of those present, “[we got] a voice with the new administration to discuss commercial drone regulations, where we saw needs, and where progress could be made.”
The UAV CEOs that attended were PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen, Airspace CEO Jaz Banga, Measure CEO Brandon Declet, Trumbull Unmanned CEO Dyan Gibbens and Kespry CEO George Mathew. They had been invited by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). What’s notable about this particular group is that they are all start ups. And they are all drone focused. While other larger companies were present during the “High Tech” week sessions (e.g. Amazon, Microsoft, etc.), the OSTP should get some credit for reaching out to a nascent industry just beginning to spread its wings.
DroneLife contacted three of those present – Mr. Chasen of PrecisionHawk, Mr. Mathew of Kespry, and Jesse Stepler, COO of Measure – to get their description of and feedback from the session. The following summary is based on their responses.
The executives arrived at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building around 8:30 am, listened to some formal introductory remarks from the OSTP followed by the UAS Breakout Session, which was led by Ethan Klein, Policy Advisor at OSTP. The CEOs participated along with high ranking government officials including Jeffrey Rosen, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Hoot Gibson, Senior FAA Advisor, and Dr. Parimal Kopardekar, NASA’s Senior Technologist for Air Transportation Systems. They concluded with a walk over to the East Wing, where they met President Trump, Vice President Pence, and White House Advisor Ivanka Trump as well as venture capitalists and technology leaders from the wireless sector. President Trump addressed the group and highlighted the importance of investment, job creation, and enabling regulatory frameworks in achieving American leadership. (See YouTube video below).
Not surprisingly, those present said the discussion led by OSTP focused on regulatory policies. Stepler of Measure said this session “was no dog and pony show. It was a substantive session.” He continued, “It was important for the FAA to really listen to people currently operating drones in the national airspace. . . we tried to impress upon them that there are companies doing things the right way and the FAA should lean more heavily on commercial drone companies that are putting necessary procedures in place, that are keeping industry thriving.” Stepler was impressed with the make up of group around the table. “[We were] all drone start ups focused on getting data to our customers — the composition of that group of companies was a real positive.”
And all participants that DroneLife touched base with said that as a group, they spoke with one voice. And their message was on the need for a comprehensive, unified, flexible regulatory framework. Michael Chasen noted, “The drone leaders at the table (and across the broader industry) have a common goal of promoting innovation and creating an environment in which drone applications can safely thrive. Several of the participants, including PrecisionHawk, highlighted unmanned traffic management as a critical component that can help us promote safety, security and innovation.” He added, “We believe that a unified national framework of forward leaning risk-based regulations is necessary to create a safe and secure airspace that can serve as the backdrop of innovative commercial drone applications. In developing regulations, we believe that as the FAA gains sufficient data through waivers and Pathfinder Programs to define requirements for particular operations, the FAA should immediately move to rule-making.” For George Mathew of Kespry, “The biggest issue is that we have not automated the waiver process to fly outside of Class G airspace under the current Part 107 framework. In addition, relaxing the current framework with a Micro UAV provision would be timely and appropriate.” What encouraged Stepler of Measure was that, “we had a real conversation over what we can do in the next 12 months.”
One thing that could be done is “relief of the 2-for-1 Executive Order. We are an industry that needs additional regulations in order to realize the full economic benefits of this technology (UTM, Air Carrier, BVLOS regulations needed) so that we can deliver the efficiencies and increase revenue across many key sectors of our economy, from agriculture, to energy, construction and insurance and help our companies gain an edge in an increasingly competitive global marketplace,” according to Chasen.
Mathew felt, “Overall it was a very positive step forward by this administration. We are looking forward to participating in the evolution of the drone space especially in getting ready for Industrial scale.”
In closing, perhaps Stepler summed up the hopes best, “For the US to be competitive we need to be smart in terms of our regulations. This was a collection of start ups. We cannot afford to wait around 5 or 10 years [for issues] to work themselves out.”