Drone World Expo – Exclusive Board Member Interviews – Jesse Kallman, Head of Business Development and Regulatory Affairs, Airware

JesseKallman250To find out what inspires their interest in UAS and attracts the Advisory Board Members to support Drone World Expo, we scheduled a series of exclusive interviews.

Our third interviewee is Jesse Kallman, Head of Business Development and Regulatory Affairs, Airware.

Jesse Kallman currently leads Airware’s global business development efforts and regulatory work. Airware is a San Francisco-based company developing flight control systems for commercial unmanned aircraft. Mr. Kallman works with global UAV manufacturers, service providers and major corporations looking to use UAV technology. He also serves as the company’s interface with the FAA and other regulatory agencies domestically and abroad as well as serving as a member on the various committees writing standards for unmanned aerial systems. He is also the President of the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the leading trade organization for unmanned systems, and is a board member of the Small UAV Coalition.

Question: You started your career as an engineer then flipped over to work as consultant to the FAA and DoD on the integration of UAS in the National Airspace System – what was it that triggered this change?

Answer: Since high school I have always been interested in engineering and wanted to get into aerospace engineering specifically. In high school, I flew Cessna’s in the Civil Air Patrol and at Georgia Tech I spent a lot of time running aerodynamics experiments in their wind tunnel facilities on UAVs, so lots of experience in traditional aviation and UAVs. Toward the end of grad school at Georgia Tech I focused more on systems engineering and also became the project manager for the FAA’s NextGen research at Tech, which is when I got introduced to working with the FAA directly. As an engineer I spent a lot of time in labs, wind tunnels, writing MATLAB scripts….and I felt that was not what I wanted to do long term.  I enjoyed working directly with customers, decision makers, thinking strategically etc.  When I left Georgia Tech I went to work with Booz Allen Hamilton, and had the opportunity to do higher level strategic level planning – to set vision on where things were going and I got excited about that part of the business. I enjoy being an advisor and helping organizations strategize and figure out what to do with the technology.

Question: Tell us about Airware: How did you become involved and who are your customers?

Answer: Airware started in 2011 in Newport Beach Southern California. The original team came out of Georgia Tech and MIT and also the Boeing A160 program, which is a large heavy lift unmanned helicopter for the military.  We saw a need in the industry for a commercial focus on UAS.  At that time, the market was dominated by people using military systems, which were very expensive and others using consumer products which are not very reliable.  We saw an opportunity in servicing the commercial market and since 2011 we have grown to over 80 employees and are now based in San Francisco.  Airware is much more than a flight control system for unmanned aircraft, but the core infrastructure for UAS operations (flight control hardware and software, extensible ground control station software, and a cloud infrastructure). We work mainly with three different types of customers. Our 1st type of customer are Drone manufacturers – who are using our hardware and software for building systems for commercial use – we don’t sell to hobby users or military.  Our 2nd customers are service providers – who go out and operate drones for their end customers who are just looking for actionable information. We provide these service providers with a consistent platform so that they can operate a fleet of different drones all the same way. We also work directly with enterprise customers –companies like GE. They don’t know how to use the technology but they know it will be critical to their business. We help them build their infrastructure and advise them on the technology to use.

Question: What do you see as being the main areas of growth for commercial applications of UAS?

Answer:  A couple of years ago it was all about agriculture – we were skeptical – the biggest applications we see are in industrial inspections – mining, quarry, oil & gas, cell tower inspections and others. Many of these have a data need, they have people who are climbing cell towers and flying over rail lines and taking images.  We have seen this growth in Europe which has been using UAS for a longer time and are further ahead of the US for enterprise adoption.  In France they regularly use UAS for rail line and power line inspection. The businesses here in the United States need to see the ROI on using drone technology.  Some are not ready to pour millions of dollars into the technology, they are waiting to see.  I do believe we will catch up to Europe and many more companies will be willing to invest in the technology.

Question: You are a very active member of on the various committees writing standards for UAS. How do you find the time and energy for it all?

Answer: I have to try and do the best I can – I try and focus on what the important things are.  I spend most of my time at Airware helping our big customers understand how to use the technology.  But standards making is critically important and I feel that without clear cut rules it will be difficult for the industry to grow safely.  It is very important to have standards so that companies who are starting 2-3 years from now are comfortable that there are a set of ground rules.

Question: Some people complain that the FAA is dragging its feet – others point out that they have a massive responsibility for air safety and that can’t be rushed. How do you see the FAA’s approach…?

Answer: The FAA is a risk adverse organization – people blame them for being slow – but if you put yourself in their shoes most people would agree that they have an incredibly complex and challenging job to keep all of their stakeholders happy and the industry safe.  If there is one accident with UAS there will be more problems so I can understand why they want to make sure that they are very thoughtful.   They have many competing stakeholders – the airlines, consumer users, military, manufacturers, who all want different things.  It’s not fair to say the FAA is too slow.   They are not doing a great job and could certainly be more innovative, but they are interested in seeing the market grow.  They moved to approve section 333 exemptions in a much higher volume which helped significantly.  They have a diverse list of stakeholders and they can’t alienate the airline industry or the small UAS industry. So striking a balance of trying to be the intermediary and be innovative is a difficult task.   They are looking to Congress for new ways for the industry to grow safely.

Question: There’s been an explosion of interest in exhibitions and conferences about UAS in the USA this year.  Why did you choose to put your weight behind Drone World Expo?

Answer: There are a lot of events focusing on the technology and applications for consumer users.  In my opinion, the commercial UAV industry will be the heart of the growth of the industry and there is a need for big companies that want to buy the technology and learn more about what is available on the market to attend this type of event.   There are very few places for them to go to find out what is on the market so it is important to have an event like Drone World Expo as an efficient way for the industry to come together.

[UAS Vision is an Official Media Partner for Drone World Expo – Ed.]

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