Skylab Flight Systems
Kevin McCarthy has worked with several Chinese manufacturers in different capacities ranging from technical support to writing user manuals to testing new products. He launched Skylab Flight Systems to share his insights on the drone industry with others.
Q. Kevin, what got you interested in the drone industry initially?
Initially, my attraction to the drone industry stemmed from my involvement in a growing quadcopter hobby. I was involved with a Chinese quadcopter manufacturer and I liked the work I was doing for/with them. One day, while I was flying, I started thinking about how to make money with these aircraft. The multirotor movement was just taking off and the term drone wasn’t being thrown around yet. I couldn’t help but think of all of the practical uses for these aircraft. That was what sparked my desire to move from the hobby world to the commercial industry. Now, the lines are blurred between the two. There are drones doing things now that only 2-3 years ago could only be found in the commercial sector.
Q. Could you tell us a bit more about your business?
I started Skylab Flight Systems with the intention of it being an aerial photography business. At the same time, I was blogging a lot about news and products coming out. So I decided to combine the two with the website. Now, I try to focus on unique stories and review products that are related to the drone industry but may not be a drone, like the Soloshot (basically a robotic cameraman that can film your drone flying from the ground, review of product is happening now). I also have a section where I will post photos & videos of “projects” I’ve worked on lately.
Q. Kevin, do you already have your Section 333 exemption? If not, where are you in the process? If yes, how did it go?
I do not have my 333 exemption. I considered applying for it but I do not hold a private pilot’s license, a requirement that is unnecessary and unrelated to flying a drone commercially. The cost and time involved in getting my sport pilot’s license is not a cost that I can afford at this time. With any luck at all, the FAA will exclude the class of drones that I prefer to fly, called micro because they weigh less than 5 pounds, completely like other countries.
Q. What do you see as the largest challenges in the drone industry today?
That’s a very good question. One of the largest problems in the drone industry today is definitely the FAA. From the very beginning, the FAA approached the small drone industry as if these small aircraft were the same as a 747. The lack of understanding on their part is scary considering the information available today. They are only now getting around to entertaining ideas that other countries have already implemented. Every day that the drone industry is NOT allowed to do business puts us further behind the rest of the world. We need to not only compete internationally in this industry, but we need to LEAD the industry. To do that, we need regulations that will allow the industry to grow and flourish without being stymied by ridiculous or unnecessary requirements. Some of the FAA documentation fails to even acknowledge that there IS a drone industry. According to them, the industry is very, very small because they have only issued less than 200 333 exemptions. That is a classic case of an agency having it’s head in the sand is dangerous behavior from the group that is supposed to regulate the entire industry.
Another HUGE problem is training/education for new drone owners/operators. While I have no problem with anyone who can afford any of the currently available drones being able to buy one off of the shelf, I have a problem with them not exactly knowing what they are getting into at the time of purchase. With every new drone release, they are becoming easier and easier to fly. However, the person flying that shiny, new drone does not know that there are rules by which they are required to abide. The rules are simple and very easy to remember but we have to TEACH them to new drone owners. Even though the newly released drones are easy to fly, they still require a bit of training, in my opinion, so that the owner knows what the drone can and cannot do as well as how to do it Who is responsible for that? Right now, no one. That needs to change in order to show the public and government that manufacturers really do have safe operation on their priority list.
Q. How do you see the drone industry evolving over the course of the next 2-3 years?
I see a movement in general to smaller. more autonomous drones for the public to operate. I see manufacturers like 3D Robotics, who recently released the first drone with not one, but two computers on board, bringing drones into everyone’s home. Drones will start being developed to do some of the menial tasks that we don’t enjoy or could be automated with the right drone. I see HUGE growth in the commercial sector IF our government would start taking the industry seriously. I feel like the drone industry will bring us closer to that science fiction future that we have all been envisioning since we were kids. Thankfully, there are companies out there working on those goals themselves: 3D Robotics, Perceptiv Labs, Soloshot and so many more.
Have you checked out Skylab Flight Systems?