InterDrone, the International Drone Conference and Exposition, kicked off officially in Las Vegas this morning. The opening keynotes were by two heavy hitters in the drone industry: PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen and FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell.
Chasen has become a frequent figure on stage at major trade shows since joining PrecisionHawk in 2017. Prior to PrecisionHawk, he was the co-founder and CEO of Blackboard (NASDAQ: BBBB), a leader in the global eLearning space. He grew Blackboard to serve over 30,000 institutions worldwide, had 3,000 employees and 20 offices around the world. (He took it public in 2004 and sold it 7 years later for $1.7 Billion.) He’s been named CEO of the year in the research triangle’s hot startup community, he secured a stunning $75 million in venture capital for PrecisionHawk in January of 2018, and was named head of the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee earlier this year.
Daniel K. Elwell is also a familiar face to the drone industry. Now the Deputy Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Elwell was sworn in to office on June 26, 2017 following his appointment by President Trump. He also served as Acting FAA Administrator from June 2017 when Michael Huerta left the office until August 2019, when Steve Dickson was sworn in.
This morning, the two took the stage to welcome the crowds to this year’s InterDrone conference and discuss the importance of public and private partnerships.
Chasen kicked things off by talking about how private industry must take a leading role to move the drone industry forward. “We need to understand what is going on today and what needs to happen for that next big step forward,” says Chasen. In an industry as new as commercial drones, says Chasen, companies can’t just give the customers what they want: “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they know they want it, ” he says.
Where is the Drone Industry Now?
Chasen sees every new industry facing a chasm when they get to that elusive “next level” of expansion – and he says that’s where the drone industry is now. Based on PrecisionHawk’s own numbers, however, Chasen concludes that the industry is successfully reaching the other side.
A year ago, Chasen says, his company’s average deal was around $35,ooo – now, the average deal is over $1 million. “Our growth and our deal size lead me to believe that we are crossing the chasm,” he says.
Chasen also discussed his role on the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committe (DAC), outlining the 5 major areas the organization must address:
- Remote ID
- Flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)
- Counter UAV programs
- Waiver processes
- Public – Private partnerships
FAA’s Dan Elwell: Crawl, Walk, Run – But Quickly
Elwell says that both he and the new adminstrator want drones to fly safely besides manned aircraft. “We are UAS integration advocates,” he says. “..We do not want to segregate drones: we want to integrate drones into our airspace.”
The last few months have seen big progress towards that overall goal, with a lot of activity in the UAS Integration Pilot and other government programs that emphasize public and private partnerships. “This summer has been all about action,” says Elwell. “…We’ve made big progress on real world testing.”
With the development of an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) framework with NASA and other partnerships, “We are making progress toward full integration of drones,” Elwell says. “The idea is to ‘Crawl, Walk and Run’, but we are doing so rapidly.”