AP NEWS

Spectrum Aerial Video firm business beginning to soar

February 12, 2017 GMT

As drone technology has grown in popularity and quality imagery equipment attached to drones has become generally affordable, the use of the technology has literally exploded.

The first firm to get commercial drone certification in Floyd County — Spectrum Aerial Video, a subsidiary of Spectrum Education — is run by David Wright, Lamar Allen and Dan Caesar.

“We’ve done the Floyd Industrial Park for the Chamber of Commerce. We’re doing the tennis courts. We’re doing the Forum renovation interior work,” Caesar said.

Wright said the footage from inside the Forum River Center is particularly interesting.

“It’s good flying. Dan’s done a good job on that,” he said.

Caesar said the group did a project for Dalton Wholesale Floors where they flew outside the company’s Adairsville location and then flew into the showroom and warehouse. He said the partners have also done a lot of work for local real estate companies.

There are still a number of issues related to use of drones for commercial purposes — from privacy concerns to liability issues from drones that crash, to high-flying drones that are problems for conventional aircraft.

Wright, who is a retired Air Force colonel, said safety is his biggest concern.

“Interference with manned aviation,” he said. “When I see someone flying at night I know that’s not something that is safe and it’s not approved under regulations (without an FAA waiver).

“If I see somebody flying above 400 feet I know that’s not legal unless you’ve gotten a specific waiver from the FAA.”

People searching the internet can see ample evidence of drones being used for commercial purposes all over the place. Caesar said he believes that there is a fair amount of commercial work going on by people who are not properly certified by the FAA.

“Probably until they make an example out of a couple of people, it’s going to continue,” Caesar said. “It seems to have slowed down some.”

Jon Byrd, director of the avionics and aircraft maintenance program at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, said the regulation of drone operators extends beyond commercial applications.

“If you’re flying one of those things that’s over half a pound, it’s supposed to be registered and you’re supposed to have a pilot’s certificate,” Byrd said.

Janice Hudson-Huff, an assistant in the GNTC aircraft program at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport, serves as a testing-center supervisor and administers examinations of the FAA Part 107 Unmanned Aircraft Systems certification locally.

“Janice has been administering a lot of tests,” Byrd said.

Wright said competition in the rapidly growing industry is not really a big deal.

“Competition is a good thing. We just want to make sure that everybody is doing it right and legally,” Wright said. “But the safety aspect, if they’re flying over people at football games, it’s just not a good idea,” Wright said.

Allen, a co-partner, said flights in proximity to fireworks are another example of how dangerous some aerial work can be.

“Flying over the Christmas parade, there are just too many things that can go wrong,” Wright said.

Someone watching the parade on Broad Street can be seriously injured by a drone — whether it flies out of control or has a battery go dead — if it hits them.

“If the FAA comes out and locks us all down, then we all lose the business,” Wright said.

An outgrowth project

The drone work is an outgrowth of Spectrum Education’s mission to introduce advanced technologies into science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — programs for elementary, middle and high schools.

Wright, who previously served as director of the Georgia Youth Science and Technology Center at the Georgia Highlands College Third Avenue campus, cited an example from the curriculum standards for fifth-graders. One of the standards at that level involves electricity.

“We’ll take them all the way from a magnet through circuits to this spinning motor, and then we say, ‘So what? Who cares about that? What’s it going to do for you?’” Wright asks students.

Then he points to the drone.

Wright turns the clock back to Dec. 17, 1902, when Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flight, 120 feet in 12 seconds. Then he points to the drone again and tells the fifth-graders, “Your airplane is that drone. Before you graduate high school, it’s going to be delivering pizzas to your house. It flies to about 42 seconds out and calls and says, ‘Your pizza is going to be delivered in 42 seconds.’

“You walk outside, look up, and it comes down. And you take your credit card, swipe it on its little leg and it flies off.”

At that point, says Wright, the kids are generally hooked and on the edge of their chairs.

“What we’ve just done is taken electricity and made it applicable to their lives and their future. That’s what we want to do with all the technologies,” he said.

Caesar said there is a broad spectrum of commercial applications for commercial drone use. He pointed to the real estate sector. Caesar said a lot of companies are using Google Earth satellite imagery, which can be several years old.

“We can give current visuals, what there really is on the property,” Caesar said. Wright pointed to the government sector and said Spectrum is trying to work with police and fire officials.

Byrd said he is considering something like a Drone 101 program at GNTC, which would help train people in the legal and safe operation of drones. He said he’s had a lot of inquiries from law enforcement personnel about such a class.

“It really makes a lot of sense,” Byrd said.

Will drones ultimately put old-school aerial photography, whether it is shot from a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft, out of business?

Caesar said the drones are much more maneuverable and infinitely less expensive than manned aircraft.

Wright said that drones won’t completely eliminate the need for some manned aircraft because the choppers and small airplanes can fly longer range, such as the inspection of power lines.

But inspecting fixed buildings or towers is a different situation.

“You can inspect a tower and see if it’s got a problem, then you can send a man up there,” Wright said. “You can save a lot of time and money.”

Byrd said that people interested in getting their pilots’ certification can call Hudson-Huff at 706-802-5085 to schedule a time to take the exam.

“It’s a big deal, but the FAA is trying to make it very easy,” Byrd said.

The agency has a link to information needed for the exam on its website at www.faa.gov/uas.