Even With Regulatory Uncertainty, Drone Professionals Feel the Holiday Cheer with a Bullish Future
It is difficult to believe that in the United States, we are preparing to commemorate our second Thanksgiving since COVID-19 impacted several end-user industries that utilize unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS” or “drones”). The costs many of these sectors continue to incur as a result of the pandemic cannot be overstated. However, as the sun sets on yet another year of widespread setbacks and challenges, participants in the UAS industry can be thankful for another twelve months wherein drone technology has proven not only that it is here to stay, but also that drones are uniquely capable of assisting industries with surviving the most difficult of times.
With the dawn of COVID-19 in early 2020, several end-user sectors, while still fostering a growing interest in utilizing drones for inspections and data collection, began to see drone deliveries as an immediate as opposed to far-off solution. As the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy and global supply chains, the interest in using drone professionals to mitigate transportation and logistics issues, reduce costs, and promote contactless deliveries soared to historic heights. By way of example, after DroneUp and Walmart in 2020 engaged in a series of successful COVID-19 test kit delivery operations, Walmart announced this past summer that the company had made a strategic investment in DroneUp and signed a drone services contract. The partnership with Walmart provides DroneUp with the resources to continue developing a scalable last-mile delivery solution by building on to a robust tech stack of flight and logistics systems, partnering with world-class drone manufacturers, continuing to hire leading industry experts, and making strategic acquisitions. Also, just last week, Walmart and Zipline announced the commencement of a new instant delivery service that will enable the on-demand deliveries of certain health and wellness and consumable items from the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Finally, this past Monday, Walmart and DroneUp announced the launch of the first multi-site commercial drone delivery operations. The fact that American consumers are now able to purchase Walmart items to be delivered by drone industry powerhouses like DroneUp and Zipline in 2021 is a testament to how far the industry has come since 2019.
The year 2021 also reintroduced drone industry participants to in-person conferences and professional gatherings, and I for one could not be more grateful to finally see so many of my colleagues after nearly two years of Zoom discussions and virtual conferences! The first in-person conference I was able to attend was the Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas this past September, and the team at Diversified Communications could not have done a better job of welcoming drone professionals back with open arms and showing how the UAS industry connects current and prospective stakeholders from all walks of life. It was remarkable to finally come face-to-face with some of my own clients as well as with industry colleagues, such as Diversified Communications’ own Danielle Gagne and P3 Tech Consulting LLC’s Dawn Zoldi, after many months of telephone conversations, text messages, emails, and Zoom discussions.
In speaking with Gagne, she explained, “Going into Commercial UAV Expo Americas, it had been almost two years since many of us had been able to see each other face to face. I don’t think we can underestimate just how powerful these interactions are.” Commenting on the success of the Expo, she stated, “I witnessed numerous spontaneous moments of people getting together and initializing steps toward collaboration and partnerships—the very type of conversations that drive our industry and move it forward. We can’t get that over a Zoom call or webinar, we can only get it here at these events. I can’t wait to find out and report on what happens as a result of these chance meetings.”
Likewise, in her address as part of the keynote panel addressing FAA drone regulation updates and the creation of value across market sectors, Lisa Ellman, Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance and Chair of the Global UAS Practice at Hogan Lovells, told the crowd, “I know COVID has been a tough time for all, and it’s energizing for me to get to see you all in person here at the show. I’ve been so inspired by this industry’s initiative to stand up and help the world in this time of crisis.” Ellman also noted that the FAA has taken a major step toward enabling widespread drone operations by launching the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC). Other UAS-related events, such as AUVSI Xponential and the Energy Drone and Robotics Summit, enjoyed reports of successful in-person showings, and the momentum for live gatherings continues to grow increasingly strong.
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I am also thankful that, despite the changes brought about by the global pandemic, the videocast I host for MarketScale, “Drones in America,” continues to afford me the opportunity to meet and converse with some of the brightest and most innovative drone professionals in the indsutry, and I cannot wait to share this new content with the industry! This upcoming season will feature new interviews with, among others, the FAA Office of UAS Integration Executive Director Jay Merkle, DRONELIFE Editor-in-Chief Miriam McNabb, and Diversified Communications’ Danielle Gagne, who is the Editorial Analysis for Commercial UAV News. In addition, the new season of “Drones in America” will also showcase a series of episodes recorded in the American territory of Guam, a majestic island that continues to remain an important U.S. military stronghold. It was an amazing opportunity to travel to such a beautiful place to work with Bella Wings Aviation and Draganfly to explore UAS opportunities on this Asian-based American territory and, through another breathtaking production assembled by Verge Aero, to witness the drone light show celebrating the 1944 liberation of Guam from Japanese occupation. Speaking of Draganfly, which listed stock on Nasdaq this past July, the company recently announced a record third quarter revenue, and Simply Wall St published an article indicating that over the past year, the company has achieved a total shareholder return of 49% and total revenue growth of 105%. Thus, during questionable economic times, drone companies are finding a way to attract investors, expand operations, and promote the UAS industry.
Ryan Pleskach and Andrew Carter will be joining an upcoming episode of “Drones in America” to discuss how half the battle over security will be public opinion and how they’re company ResilienX is helping people understand the security that will go into a UAV ecosystem.
Finally, I look forward to sharing an episode of “Drones in America” I recorded with Ben Brooks, Policy Development Lead at Wing (Alphabet), wherein Ben and I discuss Wing’s recently announced partnership with Walgreens through which the parties will implement a package delivery program in one of the most complex airspaces in the nation – the Dallas-Fort Worth area. As with the FAA’s launching of the BVLOS ARC and Walmart’s partnerships with DroneUp and Zipline, the implementation of Wing’s drone delivery service in an urban environment demonstrates the strides government and industry stakeholders are making in establishing drone deliveries as a ubiquitous means to transport goods at a time when supply chain issues continue to plague a nation that is still struggling to work through the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In conclusion, as the clock winds down on another year that has seen numerous industries continue to grapple with the economic and workforce hardships brought about by COVID-19, the commercial drone industry perseveres in showing that UAS technology will thrive in the face of widespread adversity. After all, when several sectors suffered crippling blows as quarantine orders were put into place in 2020, drone operators rose to the occasion and demonstrated to end-user industries why drone professionals are uniquely situated to help companies cut costs, reduce risks, and provide customers with high-quality data and safe, effective contactless deliveries. I remain thankful for having the opportunity to work with so many great people in this industry, and I cannot wait to see what 2022 will bring for this incredible industry!
Be sure to tune in to the new season of “Drones in America” by MarketScale, debuting Wednesday, December 1 featuring a discussion with Jay Merkle, Executive Director of the FAA’s Office of UAS Integration!
About the Author:
Grant J. Guillot is the President of Grant Guillot, LLC, an unmanned aircraft systems regulatory and business development consulting services firm. Grant advises drone manufacturers and companies that provide UAS services, as well as companies operating in industries using drones. He represents clients before government agencies and assists commercial drone users with business development opportunities and the concurrent navigation of federal, state, and local UAS regulations. He has been featured on Fox Business and Fox News to discuss the opportunities and challenges arising from drone use. Grant is the host of “Drones in America,” a weekly videocast produced by MarketScale.
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