BY MORGAN LEGEL
The world of aviation is ever-changing, with new technology coming to the forefront every day, and that includes the unmanned aircraft variety.
Aviation Concepts LLC began business in the Asia Pacific region in aircraft charter and maintenance, among other services, but has developed expertise in a variety of unmanned aircraft areas.
“The drone markets are growing every day,” said Art A. Dawley, president, Aviation Concepts and Tech Center Guam. “In every facet of industry and public service, drones are providing greatly needed services with a greater emphasis on safety.”
But, with new technology comes new regulations. The unmanned aircraft, or drone, industry began with little policing. However, as time has progressed, a distinctive need for rules for both recreational and commercial operators has arisen.
In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration took the first step in mandating the industry by securing safety in the National Drone System.
And specific no-fly zones on the island include the airspace of Andersen Air Force Base, Naval Base Guam, the A.B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam, Marine Corps Base Camp Blas and other federally-owned properties.
“We started developing a long-term business plan to include drones,” Dawley told the Journal. “It’s a natural evolution — although drone manufacturers seemed to be way ahead of the regulation requirement, we knew they would be eventually regulated.”
“Unfortunately, this amazing technology that has been afforded to us has become a tool for those who wish to do harm or do illegal activities,” said Special Agent Craig Perry, Naval Criminal Investigation during an Aug. 11 virtual meeting in Guam on drones.
Perry said when used in recreational modes, drones can carry a significant concern with law enforcement agencies due to security breaches. With almost universal 4k picture and video capabilities, intelligence can be collected on anything — including military, airport and federal operations, sometimes by enemies of the state.
With some of the still-evolving rules in place, businesses like Tech Center are flourishing, especially considering how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the business economy. Drones can now offer various industries the ability to conduct certain operations without the need for close contact with people.
Drone services include shorter detail mapping, that would normally take more than one person and many hours and consumer drone delivery. Drones can offer construction industry support and help for public safety departments such as fire departments and police departments, to get a better view of situations before personnel approach.
“Tech Center was developed to support those commercial operators and provide a platform for training, not only this generation’s operators, but next generation’s too,” Dawley said.
Tech Center created the UAV Academy, which offers unmanned aerial vehicle classes that often include simulator training, for those operators and pilots who want to learn to fly drones.
Courses include aerial mapping and modeling, aerial security for law enforcement, industrial inspections, aerial photography, pipeline patrol, thermal imaging, and search and rescue operations.
Two basic courses Tech Center offers are design, build and fly, and a test preparation and flight training course. Prices are $4,700 and $1,750 respectively.
The design course is a five-day certification program that includes drone construction and maintenance as well as taking Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Administration’s remote pilot program.
Test preparation and flight training is a two-day course that includes drone flight training. Students learn applicable regulations relating to small, unmanned aircraft system rating privileges,
limitations, and flight operation as well as airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions. This course also includes direction on weather effects, loading and performance, emergency procedures, crew-resource management, radio communication procedures, airport operations and maintenance and pre-flight inspection procedures.
The design course is a more professional course, while the flight training course can be for anyone, even beginners.
Tech Center has also spent time working with a University of Guam program participants, holding classes in the main Tech Center building, on the airport campus.
UOG launched the Drone Corps program on April 15, allowing students to learn professional drone flying and regulations, as well as research into the drone field. The program covers fees for successful applicants to take the certification test, allowing students to become licensed drone pilots. Members will also be eligible to receive a $1,000 stipend upon successful completion of their licensure and achieving 80 hours of flight time per semester.
Funding for the program is provided by a NASA Guam Space Grant and NASA Guam EPSCoR; the program was established to stimulate competitive research. The UOG Drone Corps is accepting applications throughout the year for both novice and experienced students. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, 18 years or older, and UOG students.
Aviation Concepts was also contracted by the Bureau of Statistics and Plans to develop drone operations and a training program for the government and its entities, to include search and rescue and the Guam Fire Department, to help limit Coronavirus exposure.
“One man with one drone can accomplish much the same task as a team of five to six personnel out and working in close proximity,” Dawley said.
Both Tech Center and Aviation Concepts plan on adding additional drones, capabilities and courses to their resumes.
“There’s a greater need for drone services recently,” Dawley said. “And drones will be a much greater part of the future.”
Bella Wings Aviation plans to offer commercial business applications, building on the success of its drone display above Tumon Bay for Guam’s Liberation Day on July 21, particularly after
the “overwhelming support and positive feedback” the company received, according to Perla Cordero, chief operating officer of Bella Wings.
She told the Journal the business plans drone deliveries beginning with Tumon in the next few months. Different drones have different capabilities, she said. “They all have a different purpose. The ones we will be using in the near future will be for deliveries and advertising,” she said.
As to supplying drones for other special events and private productions, Cordero said the drones are certainly for hire, potentially for other islands in the region also. “We’ve looked at it,” she said.
Expansion of the Bella Wings drone fleet is also possible, Cordero said. “It’s a matter of investment. Eventually we’d like to get to 300.” mbj