AUVSI Announces Trusted Operator Program to Certify Drone Schools Without FAA Approval.



2018 has become a pivotal point for the drone market as a whole. The FAA is announcing steps for a remote ID system to allow more operations including Amazon Package Delivery and more autonomous operations. In addition, they announced more systems to create efficiencies within the drone ecosystem to make acquiring exemptions and authorizations easier.  The FAA has made a clear pivot from a legislative policy that can be described as quixotic at best, to making substantial changes and accepting input. More importantly, they've begun to seek input from industry advocates large AND SMALL (FINALLY!). As this begins, many larger industry players continue to take advantage of the FAA's unpreparedness for the influx of new pilots and attempt to implement plans that affect pilots without credibility, authority, or legitimacy. Today, we learned about the newest influx of such plans. 

Yesterday, AUVSI anounced their most recent endevour, the TOPS program run by the Remote Pilots Council. This program is intended to create a certification program for drone schools to qualify and vet pilots. 

As Jim Cramer would say, "The bulls make money, the bears make money but the pigs get slaughtered."  In other words, if you plan, you can make money on peaks and dips.  If you get greedy and become weak to your emotions, you will fail and you will fail BADLY.  This TOPS program is the quintessential guide to greed by creating a program that charges drone schools to vet pilots to a standard created by individuals who don't fly drones for a living. 

When AUVSI announced its recent TOPS program, I began to shake my head in hesitation.  Before we discuss the very real problems with this program, AUVSI has otherwise been the best conference for drones of 2018, and we have 4 amazing podcasts coming out to demonstrate all the amazing content and players in the industry. 

When AUVSI announced the program at the show,  they had a bunch of manned aviation trainers on stage talking about how "more pilots needed to become 107." Many drone pilots began to look at each other with extreme confusion. Excuse me? There have been over 75,000 licensed pilots in the last 2 years. The absolute fastest adoption of a pilot certificate since the FAA's founding in 1958. What were these guys thinking on stage? 

Yet this group of manned aviation trainers, was the group representing the TOPS program as the "early adopters..." 

What is the TOPS program? Here's the slideshow from the presentation.  According to AUVSI the program is "critical for remote pilots and training organizations to demonstrate trust, reliability, safety and professionalism." 

The ideology to create a program for certifying and vetting pilots is fantastic. Albeit the ideology is flawed in the fact that the FAA, a government institution who oversees aviation, should be the SOLE SOURCE TO CREATE some sort of practical test for drone pilots to create a safer environment. 

It is a flawed mentality to have any 3rd party, private vendor, or association being funded by a private enterprise to create a program to legitimize all the drone schools in the country. O yeah, and you can't stop youtubers either. 

AUVSI's intentions were mostly good, although I wish Drone U could have had a word in the process.  Moreover, AUVSI plans to charge up to $12,000 for drone schools to certify students. They offer 3 levels of certification to teach students. How is a private company going to tell me how to teach students WHEN THEY DON'T FLY. 

Let's get this straight: a governing body of geriatric (yeah i said it) policymakers who have little to no experience-based knowledge are creating rules as a private entity to charge pilots for training to be "trusted?" 

So if i have to pay to be trusted.  Just come to the house I'll buy you coffee and hand you a few hundo's and well call it day? 

To make matters worse (unless you're lucky enough to be one of the big players), the Remote Pilot Council who oversees the TOPS program tried to compare the system they intend to create to... hamburgers?!? 

Essentially, AUVSI has compared the drone pilot to the hamburger. Yes, a F***** hamburger. I get it guys, You really do see us all as cows.  I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in manned aviation. We're already treated like cows on planes and its backfiring. United recently lost $1 Billion dollars in market cap in one day, after a passenger was dragged off a plane. 

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AUVSI and the TOPS program's metaphorical hamburger isn't lost on me. They're trying to say we need a system which is more systematic and normalized: like a hamburger. That's fantastic, but AUVSI must have never read the book Toxin.  (Nor eaten a quesadilla burger with green chile) 

If meat is metaphorical professionalism, then we're in trouble! It's your metaphor, so let's extend it beyond the bun to the entire burger joint? If we want to create a system of drone pilots who operate in a specific manner for the IMAGE and PERCEPTION of safety, we would create McDonald's.

McDonald's has always delivered a half-assed product, that, if left on the street, will still be edible in a year!  McDonalds created a system to provide the same product to millions of people across the United States, and later the world.  IF you've ever read the HBR studies on Starbucks and other food processors, you'd come away with one robust conclusion: consistency, not quality sells.. Starbucks buys some of the cheapest coffee beans on the planet simply because they can order enough to have a predictably uniform tastes across the brand as a whole. Consistency. Quality though may only be found at your local Cuban coffee shop. (I LOVE CUBAN COFFEE) 

So if the meat represents professionalism then what about all the meat manufacturers that have killed thousands of people from e-coli and contaminated meat.  Doesn't anymore remember the book The Jungle? 

The FDA was famously created after the Harvey Wiley read the book and then later advocated for the formation of the government entity. See story here. 

Look, if I want a hamburger (which is rare) I'm going to In and Out. A burger joint with their own standards that are HIGH AND ABOVE THE COMPETITION. There will not be a 3rd party association trying to tell them how to run things. They focused on quality and service before expanding into hundreds of stores across the country. They are the only burger joint who doesn't freeze the meat and which is why they haven't expanded across the country yet. 

This new TOPS system audits drone training companies in a means to audit drone pilots. They send a 3rd party company to come out and audit the training companies asking for their syllabuses and course materials. Unfortunately, I will never allow that as a company. Nor would In & Out give away their famous special sauce. (The animal sauce you east coasties know nothing about) 

Drone U has more trademarks and patents for training exercises in process than i can shake a stick at. WE take SERIOUS pride in our flight exercises and system of training that has been developed over the past 6 years.

We actually want the industry to grow, we want people to fly safe and we care about the responsibility of pilots as it will have a direct correlation to the industry. We're not just in it to create hype, lie and make money Mark Cuban. 

We will never release our exercises that have been proven to teach people to MASTER flight, gain confidence and limit risk. 

While AUVSI has stellar intentions to create a system to vet pilots, One the system should be made by the most prestigious and QUALIFIED pilots with direction from the Federal Aviation Administration....... Not a bunch of pencil pushers from large manned aviation firms who will create old style rules that will garnish ZERO validity. 

Secondly, they should step aside and let the FAA handle a practical licensure test. I've always advocated for one and will continue to do so. IN FACT, i'm currently developing a practical test that any person could fly and take anywhere in the country, other than controlled airspace. 

Thirdly, why would you create a system to vet pilots via a drone school? A drone pilot can still act like a saint for 1 day at a drone school then run out and do whatever they want. The system is flawed from its inception. 

It's evident that the FAA is overwhelmed in taking on UAS in the aviation community. As they have officially come out and asked for help from the industry advocates and pilots alike.  Large market cap aviation players continue to take advantage of this government agency while borderline breaking federal rules. 

To succinctly summarize the Tops program, how can you build trust in a community when it is predicated on a pay to play system? How can you create a system to vet pilots when you're vetting the trainers, not the pilots?

How can you create a legitimate system to vet pilots when you're not the Federal Aviation Administration. 

I say we have a fly off, whoever flies the obstacle course the fastest (and safest) can write the rules for the drone school certification. The person who races also has to be an executive in the company... sorry you're not hiring Shaun Taylor. 

But until the FAA comes out with Legal guidelines on drone schools, we'll continue to make a POSITIVE impact on the industry by teaching exercises and systems that have been proven to work via data. 

Maybe these old geriatrics should google "data-based decisions," or read the book Everyone Lies, How Data & The internet can tell us who we really are."

Until then, we ask AUVSI to open the door to all drone training companies to discuss this certification process, otherwise we'll be reviewing the Sherman Act again. IN addition, we ask the FAA to make a statement that they are the sole authority of the airpsace in the United States.   

Most people should know that, if they've taken the 107 test! 


Written by Paul Alexander Aitken, Owner & Chief Pilot of Drone U.