Autonomous Avionics, a new US company that sells small unmanned air vehicles and related components, has opened its doors in an effort to capitalise on the expected growth of the domestic commercial UAV market.
President Bernie Hoffman tells Flightglobal he started the Denver-based company in anticipation of new Federal Aviation Administration rules that will open US airspace to commercial UAV operators.
“When we go commercial, I will be ready,” Hoffman says.
Commercial UAV companies like Hoffman’s have so far been stifled by FAA regulations that prohibit most commercial UAV operations. A longtime model aircraft enthusiast, he says small businesses like his have lacked the lobbying muscle to push Washington for changes.
But times are changing, Hoffman says, noting that the FAA is writing small UAV rules and is mandated by Congress to integrate the systems into US airspace by 2015. The commercial UAV market received a major boost when Amazon announced last year its intention to deliver packages with small UAVs in the coming years, he adds.
“The tipping point was when Amazon said they want to fly,” Hoffman says. “Now the lobbying changes.”
Hoffman says applications for small UAVs are boundless; the aircraft can be used for pollution monitoring and photography for real estate marketing, energy exploration, security and agriculture. Technology now exists that allows companies in those sectors to use small UAVs for work previously performed by much more expensive manned aircraft, he says.
And the technology has evolved to a point where operators can fly small UAVs safely with very little training, according to Hoffman.
Autonomous Avionics’s website says it sells a range of quadcopters, from “micro” models costing $160 to “heavy lift” carbonfibre models costing $5,900.
Hoffman says there are few centralised sources from which to purchase small UAV parts. To build his aircraft, he has sourced parts from locations including Australia, China and the UK. His company also sells related equipment, such as batteries and chargers, flight controllers, motors, propellers and video receivers.
The FAA has been working for years on rules for small UAVs, and has said it will release proposed regulations later this year, to be followed by a period of public comment and possible revision.
Until then, commercial operators must receive a “special airworthiness certificate” for experimental aircraft from the agency to fly UAVs in US airspace.
So far, the FAA has permitted only one company to operate UAVs in the sparse airspace of the Arctic Circle, north of Alaska, according to the FAA.
Public agencies, such as law enforcement agencies, can operate them after receiving a “certificate of authorisation or waiver”.