Christina Cardoza

Apr 12, 2016 5:39:07 PM

When DJI, 3DR, Parrot and GoPro announced they were forming a new group, the Drone Manufacturers Alliance, there were some questions left unanswered. Weren’t these companies originally a part of the Small UAV Coalition? Why did they leave? And how are these two initiatives going to coexist?

It turns out that there wasn’t a difference of opinion, just a difference of interests. “We see this all the time...where you have organizations that come together to focus on a broad set of policy positions, and then you may have different groups faction out in order to focus on more specific issue areas,” said Kara Calvert, director of the Drone Manufacturers Alliance. “We are all part of the same ecosystem, so the general thrust is making sure that the UAVs continue to integrate safely into the national airspace.”

The alliance stresses it is focused on all users, whether they are recreational, commercial, civic, public service or governmental, something it says didn’t align with the Small UAV Coalition. According to Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, its main focus at first was to promote the ubiquitous use of drones across every sector of the economy, including recreation. As time went on, the coalition has tailored its mission to focus more on the commercial usage of drones.

“The beginning was really to bridge the gap and have both in the coalition, but we have definitely moved toward the smaller commercial operators,” he said. “We believe the long tail of the industry is in the commercial space.”

The Drone Manufacturers Alliance’s mission is to advocate on behalf of the manufacturers for a regulatory framework that ensures continued innovation in the drone industry and enhances safety in the national airspace, according to Calvert. “The companies came together last week and decided there needed to be a voice for manufacturers and issues that are important to these makers right now who are predominantly [making] the devices that are up and running in the air.”

According to Drobac, the coalition still believes in what the Alliance is setting out to do, and will support them whenever they can. “We will absolutely support the mission that they have, and we remain in close contact with them, but we also believe that there is a bigger part of the industry,” he said.

“There has been a very clear indication from stakeholders that view the industry as being wonderfully strong in the recreational space, but beyond even quantification in terms of what the value will be across every sector of the economy.”

The coalition's membership includes AirMap, Amazon Prime Air, Google X, Intel, Kespry, PrecisionHawk, and Verizon Ventures, and its focus includes drone delivery, drone communication, drone service opportunities, commercial roles, FAA regulations, air carrier provisions, and an unmanned traffic-management system.

“Small UAV is a very diverse coalition and there are a lot of issues on their plate,” said Calvert. “We agree with those and have been strong members of that organization up to this point, but what they are looking for is a very specific focus.”

The alliance is still in its organizational planning stage and trying to get a clearer understanding of what its activities are, and where they are going to invest time, money, resources and people. But according to Calvert, the main focus right now is on governmental policy and how that is shaping the landscape.

“It really became a dividing line around what were our expectations and what was the focus points for the different groups within the coalition,” said Drobac. “I would say neither group looks at the other with any kind of jaundiced eye. We will support them fully in their efforts to continue to have prosperous sales and areas that emphasize on their initiatives, but it can’t be to the detriment of what we believe is a larger part of this industry in terms of what will actually be helpful to people and promote safety.”

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