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Expert Interview Series: Shawn Rowland of Drones Etc.

Shawn Rowland is the Co-Founder of Drones Etc. one of the internet’s largest drone retailers. We recently caught up with Shawn to learn more about the booming market for drone technology and what novice pilots need to know before taking flight. Here’s what he had to say:

How did you become interested in drone technology?

I’ve been interested in drone technology since before drones were a “thing”. The combining of advanced sensors and algorithms to allow for autonomous flight has so many applications across all aspects of our everyday life. How can that not be exciting?

What is the market for drones right now? How has it changes since you started your business?

We are often asked who our core customer is or what the market for drones is. The answer is that we have no typical customer. The market goes from general hobbyist all the way to high-end technical professional users and everything in between.

How are business owners and hobbyists using drones today?

Recently, the FAA finalized their rules and regulations allowing for the commercial operation of drones. Prior to this announcement the industry operated in a fairly unregulated grey zone. Our very first “commercial” customers were real estate agents looking to get a leg up on their competition when it came to listing homes. They immediately say the huge benefit of being able to get aerial shots of all their listings without having to pay a helicopter pilot and photographer thousands of dollars.

Since then, we’ve seen structural engineers, roofers, aerial photographers, videographers, farmers, ranchers, search and rescue personnel, law enforcement, firefighters, cartographers, racers, just about anyone can find an application for the drone that makes their job either safer and/or easier.

What are some of the most innovative ways you’ve seen drones being used?

You’re really only limited by your imagination when it comes to uses for your drone. We’ve seen ranchers use them to help herd cattle, fishermen use them to spot large tuna and guide the line to the right spot and even lifeguards who use them to quickly drop flotation devices to drowning victims in the ocean.

Why should drone owners/operators consider getting insurance for their drones?

Insurance for your drone is a must. We like to tell our customers that it’s not if, it’s when. These are complex flying computers being operated in a dynamic environment. Accidents will happen. I’m usually not a big fan of gimmicky extended warranties for electronics but in this case, it’s absolutely not a gimmick but rather a no-brainer when it comes to protecting your investment ESPECIALLY if you’re using your drone to help you earn a living.

What are the risks of not protecting your investment?

It just makes sense to spend a little extra money to protect something that in most cases costs anywhere from $1,000-$5,000 dollars or more. A lot of times no matter how careful you are and how good of a pilot you are, there are certain factors that you just can’t control like weather or equipment failure.

What are the most common errors you see operators making with their drones? What is the fallout from these mistakes?

The most common errors we see happen due to the pilot not being patient and not taking the proper time when first learning. Because they are so easy to fly they give you a false sense of security. It’s easy to think you’re a pro pilot after just a few minutes of flying. But only until something happens like flying too close to an obstacle or having a mechanical issue. Take your time to watch tutorial videos. Start slow. If possible, have a trained pilot take you through your first few flights.

What type of training should drone operators get before they start flying their drones? What are the benefits of this training?

The industry is still young and we are just now starting to see “flight schools” for drones popping up around the country. These come in the form of live training and video courses online or on DVD. There are also more laws on the federal level as well as in your local area concerning drones. Take the time to research and learn these laws. In some cases, the penalties for violating a drone specific law can be quite steep.

What do drone operators need to know about FAA registration and compliance?

As a hobbyist or a commercial operator the FAA requires you to register as a pilot if you plan on flying any drone from .5 lb up to 55 lbs. Along with the registration the FAA requests that you familiarize yourself with their rules regarding safe and legal flight. Some of these rules include not flying over populated areas, flying below 400 feet, and always maintaining direct line of sight with your drone. There are a few more and when you go through the registration process you will have a chance to look over the rules in more detail.

What advice can you offer new drone operators on getting the most out of their investment?

Flying for the first time can be quite nerve wracking. Having someone who has experience with drones help you out when you are first getting started can be a big help and help you avoid some of the common (and costly) mistakes that first timers often make. With that said, once you get over the nerves you will see that it really is easy and something that anyone can do. That’s why they are “taking off” all over the world. It used to be that the power of flight was reserved for a select few who had to go through hours and hours of training and invest a considerable amount of time and money. Now anyone can experience the thrill of flight and the unique perspective that it brings as you capture beautiful aerial images of things that you’ve only ever seen from eye level. Fly safe and fave fun!!

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