Entrepreneurs Andrew and Katy McQuality were so energized about launching a drone photography business that they became first in Yavapai County to take and pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) test to obtain the required Remote Pilot License.
They have since joined a flourishing global industry that analysts at BI Intelligence predict will top $12 billion in revenues in 2021, compared to $8 billion in 2015. PwC in 2015 estimated the potential value of drone-powered solutions across all addressable industries at more than $127 billion worldwide.
“To fly commercially, a drone pilot must have a Remote Pilot License and fly under the FAA’s Part 107 Regulations, or fly under Section 333,” Katy explained. “We fly under Part 107, which means, for example, that we are not allowed to fly within five miles of any airport without permission from the FAA.”
Such exception is granted through waivers.
“Locally, we applied for our waiver to fly in Prescott Class D airspace (smaller airports with control towers) in February of 2017, and were granted permission with a Blanket Waiver that allows us to fly in almost all of Prescott Class D airspace, with restrictions in various flight altitudes based on location,” she explained. “To date, we are the only known Part 107 drone operators in this area with this specific waiver.”
Their saga began when they discovered a DJI-brand drone at Hobby Lobby in Prescott Valley. “Andrew saw the drone and immediately saw the potential for business purposes. After purchasing the drone and taking it out over a period of time to very remote locations to practice flying, it was announced that the FAA was going to be requiring a Remote Pilot License in order to fly drones for commercial purposes.”
They took to the skies as owners/operators of McQuality Designs & Services, LLC. The company offers aerial photos and video for real estate, legal purposes, rooftop inspections, thermal imaging and lost animal searches.
“We have also reached out to our local Central Yavapai Fire District to let them know that they may call us if they ever have a need, as our drone has a top speed of 58 mph and can fly in winds up to 25 mph. We have a great respect for all that our firefighting community does for the Quad Cities area, so we absolutely do not fly our drone during fires, unless officially invited by authorities.”
McQuality predicts ongoing popularity of business drones for services like power line inspections, tower inspections, roof inspections and search and rescue missions. Retail functionality, thanks to Amazon, includes package delivery.
For students of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as drones, Yavapai College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offer programs. Additionally, entrepreneur Greg Reverdiau, co-owner of AZ Drone, has developed a course to help applicants with licensing.
Consisting of 180 video lectures split into 10 chapters, Reverdiau’s course is priced at $149.99. The 11-hour program includes two test preps and more than 250 practice questions. Currently, it is available online, but Reverdiau anticipates offering evening classes.
“I have been passionate about flight training my entire life,” said Reverdiau. “For 12 years, I worked for a large aeronautical university, the Florida Institute of Technology. While there, I became interested in drones as they were starting to become popular. During my tenure at North-Aire Aviation (here in Prescott), one of our great flight instructors, who had a lot of experience with drones, helped expose middle school kids to this cool technology. Seeing the kids’ reaction was priceless and reinforced my idea that UAS were here to stay.”
Reverdiau said that as he started flying his drone commercially, he realized there was a lot of misinformation online. “I also found a few pilots who were unintentionally doing things that were illegal or dangerous, because of a lack of education. As a new industry, it’s important that we educate pilots on what they can/should do and what they absolutely can’t/shouldn’t.”
Both the McQualitys and Reverdiau invite inquiries when they are out in the field. However, they also caution that the drone pilot should only be approached after the craft has landed.
“Just because you hear or see a drone outside, doesn’t mean that you are being watched or spied on,” McQuality said. “We are just doing the job we have been hired to do, which is likely getting a picture of your neighbor’s property or helping in a search-and-rescue effort. We are happy to discuss our business with you and show you the photos we took during that flight.” QCBN
By Sue Marceau, QCBN