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Michael Chasen and Dan Elwell Evaluate the Drone Industry, “We’re Crossing the Chasm.” | InterDrone 2019 Keynotes

BY Isabella Lee
6 September 2019

InterDrone 2019 kicked off this week in Las Vegas, Nevada with 2,500+ attendees as well as over 135 companies showcasing the latest hardware, software, and drone tech. Keynote speaker Michael Chasen of PrecisionHawk says we’re at the end of a chasm and Dan Elwell of the FAA says the industry is making practical progress.

This year, the trade show and conference was directed by a new InterDrone chairman, Mike Pehel. He’s a long-time friend of ours in the industry, and we want to give a huge hat-tip to him for a bang-up show.

Five years ago at the first conference, Mike said, “Not a single drone pilot in attendance could truly say they had flown a legal operation.” That was prior to the FAA’s issue of the Part 107 rules. Isn’t it funny to think how far we’ve all come?

We’re proud to say this was our fifth year attending InterDrone, and every year we learn, get inspired, and leave with a renewed enthusiasm for this incredible industry. It’s been great to reconnect with existing partners and industry friends, and with our Drone Pilot Ground School students. We hosted a student breakfast onsite at the conference—thanks to everyone who could make it!

InterDrone 2019 DPGS Lunch

Chasen and Elwell Deliver Opening Keynotes at InterDrone 2019

To start off the conference, two names that carry the weight of celebrity in the drone industry, Dan Elwell and Michael Chasen, delivered the opening keynotes.

Michael Chasen: “We’re at the end of the chasm.”

Michael Chasen is the CEO of PrecisionHawk and Chairman of the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC). PrecisionHawk is a leading provider of drone technology driven by AI and machine learning. They also own Droners.io, one of the largest drone pilot networks in the world with 15,000 pilots.

dac-michael-chasen

The DAC is an advisory board that provides strategic guidance to the FAA and other government officials on drone rules, with the aim of helping to identify challenges and ways to improve.

In his keynote, Chasen talked about what the drone market wants versus what it needs. Pulling from a Steve Jobs quote, Chasen expressed that “our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.”

For example, two big desires within the drone market right now are fast drone deliveries and safe air taxi travel options. This is what people say they want, but there are two needs that must be addressed first according to Chasen: technology and policies. We need technology that can keep drones in the air for longer, carry heavier payloads, and can operate safely in the NAS. We need policies that can support all of these use cases but that won’t limit the ideas we all think of tomorrow.

So, where is the market today? The consumer drone market is a $5 billion market, expected to grow to $20 billion in 2025, says Chasen. And the commercial market is just getting started. Chasen says we’re at the end of a chasm. In the process of integrating any new technology into society, a chasm must be crossed. To get across, the public’s trust in the usability, value, safety, and trustworthiness of the technology must be strengthened.

Has the drone industry crossed this chasm? Chasen thinks so. Looking into the progress of his own company, PrecisionHawk’s average deal size was $35K a year and a half ago. Now it’s over $1 million.

PrecisionHawk is growing 300% this year, and they’ve had to modify their business model several times along the way. This included prioritizing drone services over products. Their restructuring helped them beat what Bloomberg has dubbed the “drone bubble burst.” The changing drone landscape has caused the “drone bubble” to burst and forced dozens of startups to shut down or consolidate in the past year. PrecisionHawk made five acquisitions of its own in 2018.

Dan Elwell: “Crawl, walk, run.”

Dan Elwell

Elwell is the Deputy Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and also served as Acting FAA Administrator from January 2018 until August 2019. At last year’s show, he said the “FAA is open for business,” and reiterated the same sentiment this year.

Elwell discussed the industry in numbers, reporting more than 1.4 million registered drones in the U.S. and almost 150,000 certified drone pilots. He also offered an update on the success of the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). The program has sparked significant forward progress for the industry, especially in North Carolina, North Dakota, and Kansas.

A few of the major successes include:

North Dakota:

Kansas:

North Carolina:

In the spirit of remaining open for business and making practical progress, the FAA plans to make even larger strides in the coming months. Elwell says pilots can expect a draft rule later this year about Remote ID rules and standards and that they are still going through the comments (over 900 were submitted) on the proposed rules for flying over people and at night without a waiver.

This is pretty exciting for the future of the drone industry; however, Elwell says we are “still in the crawl phase” of the FAA’s ‘crawl, walk, run’ strategy.

What does walking mean? More urban operations, more BVLOS flights, and multiple UAS per flight path and per operator will be some of the hallmarks says Elwell. As for running, Elwell says we haven’t fleshed this out yet but is interested in finding out.

Let us know what you think of the keynotes from InterDrone 2019 in this thread on our community forum.

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