In the second of a series of interviews with key figures involved in the success of Drone World Expo, we talked to Kathleen “Kat” Swain, Senior Director of UAS Programs, AOPA – Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Kat is responsible for developing and managing the UAS “Drone” programs at Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Kat joined AOPA in March 2016. Before joining AOPA, Kat was Vice President for Measure UAS, a technology startup providing commercial drone service to several business verticals.
What was your first professional encounter with UAVs ?
I had an aviation passion at a very early age. I built aircraft models and flew r/c as a young child/teen, which led me to manned aviation (flight training) in my teens. I continue to fly r/c, sUAS, and airplanes to this day as a commercial/certified flight instructor/remote pilot, along with my duties as AOPA’s Sr. Director of UAS Programs. In 2010, my team at USAA Insurance began researching different ways to adjust claims for insurance after catastrophes (i.e. hurricanes, tornados). I was in property claims leadership and then transitioned to the Innovation area of the organization to lead their UAS efforts.
In 2013, I assisted USAA in filing the first Section 333 exemption for R&D testing of UAS and the use of UAS after catastrophes for inspections. I served as the lead pilot and researcher on the USAA drone team from 2013-2015 and then moved onto Measure UAS, a drone as a service start up as their VP of Insurance. Since March 2016, I have been at AOPA as the Sr. Director of UAS Programs developing out the needed resources and support for the remote pilot community.
After skydiving and flying real aircraft, isn’t flying a drone a little tame?
Not at all! Having witnessed first-hand, how drone technology can improve processes (such as claims adjusting and other inspections) and also help society (through search and rescue or mapping/surveying damaged areas for rebuilding), I am a strong supporter of the technology. For me, manned and unmanned are not very different. We share the same airspace, we enjoy aviation, and we are pilots!
For me, whether it was skydiving, piloting or teaching someone to fly an airplane or a drone, it was sharing my passion of the skies. I always have the da Vinci quote with me “For once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyways, for there you have been and there you will long to return”. I think that is fitting for both manned and unmanned flight.
Can you tell us what is the relationship between a pilot’s association and the world of unmanned aircraft ? At first glance it seems to be a contradiction in terms..?
We are all pilots and AOPA is the largest general aviation pilot community. Remote Pilots, many new to aviation, need the same support, services, information and tools that AOPA expertly provides to the manned general aviation community. We believe that we are stronger as a united community, and welcome these new pilots with hope that our common goals of safety and freedom to fly will be achieved together.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for the development of the commercial UAV market?
First and foremost, safe integration is the biggest challenge. Industry and associations (both manned and unmanned) and government need to collaborate to develop this roadmap. Safety is the top priority, and I think most would agree to that statement; however as this roadmap is laid out, we have to remember that regulations should be right-sized to avoid stifling innovation and growth in the drone marketplace.
Why did you decide to get involved in Drone World Expo ?
When I was invited to join the advisory board for Drone World Expo, I was honoured to collaborate with other thought leaders and assist in the development of an expo that would provide the marketplace the information, visibility, solutions and networking it desired.