After more than a year of hard work, at the start of August 2014 I was proud and privileged to be presented with the first ever SUA (Small Unmanned Aircraft) Aerial Work Certificate from the CAACI (Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands) with the help of Skyward.
In early 2013 I made a call to the CAA to discuss the legalities and local regulations, if any, for a commercial venture of this sort. The CAA confirmed that there were no specific details surrounding regulations for commercial SUA operators at that time, the concern was covered under The Air Navigation (Overseas Territories) Order (AN[OT]O). Further details were later published in a press release by the CAA in Oct 2013.
So, I set out to apply for an Aerial Work Certificate. The CAA provided the following list of requirements;
- Suitable Training
- Sufficient Experience
- Business Plan
- Operations Manual
- Public Liability Insurance
For the next 12 months I ran AirVu as a web design business, my former profession, in order to support business operating overheads and to create time to work on the requirements for the certificate. I submitted AirVu’s business plan to the CAA and then went about tackling the other items on the requirements list. Being an opportunist and looking to the future international possibilities for AirVu I attended the first ever Small Unmanned Business Systems Expo in San Francisco.
Strong connections were made at that time, most importantly to entrepreneur Jonathan Evans, CEO of Skyward. Evans, an ex-military Black Hawk pilot from Oregon, had an idea to join the dots between SUA operators and clients. Skyward later played an integral part of AirVu obtaining their certificate from the CAA.
I then flew to Colorado to obtain three certificates from the Unmanned Vehicle University; Pilot, Photographer and Cinematographer. This involved over 70 hours of training but included an incredible adventure flying multirotors in the Rocky Mountains.
Once back in Cayman I set about putting into practice what I had learned in Colorado back home in Cayman. I flew our drone daily, learning to deal with the windy conditions of the local Cayman climate. We purchased additional components for the F550 including landing gear, camera gimbal and a powerful compact camera. Practice flights then included additional weight and became even more challenging!
Whilst my training had provided me with knowledge of safe practices, understanding aviation regulations and writing an operations manual that would satisfy the CAA was quite a challenge. It was at this point that I decided to enlist the help of Jonathan Evans and Skyward. They are now beta testing their app “Skyward” that provides a path to safe, legal and insured commercial operations. AirVu is lucky enough to be partnered with this fantastic company and served as alpha testers for the software.
With Skyward’s help and after two revised submissions and some tweaking the CAA approved AirVu’s Aerial Work Certificate.
“This is the first Permission to be granted to a local operator by the CAACI. The granting of this Permission indicates that AirVu has demonstrated competence in meeting the required standards to operate SUAs safely for commercial purposes. We work in an exciting and demanding industry and the CAACI is keen to support the operation of new aviation technology within the Cayman Islands providing safety is not compromised.”Richard Smith, Director, Civil Aviation
The July 2014 edition of the CAACI Newsletter stated that AirVu was the first to submit a formal application and has provided the CAACI with a fully documented and compliant application leading to the grant of the Permission under Article 73 of the Air Navigation (Overseas territories) Order 2013.
We now intend on leading the way in the local SUA Operations industry, starting with Aerial Photography and Cinematography for Real Estate. We have partnered with local video production companies to create an affordable solution for any marketing budget and have already developed a strong network within the local Real Estate industry. Future plans for the company include Aerial Surveying, 3D Aerial Image Mapping, Surveillance, Search and Rescue and potentially even supporting law enforcement.
I believe this new and exciting industry will bring many jobs along with it. Drone operators are not the only role I see as being integral; mechanics, technicians, innovators and programmers are just some of the essential job roles this industry will require to sustain itself. In Cayman I hopes to provide education to schools and the UCCI covering safety, local regulations, maintenance and flight training. We are already working with the UCCI to put together a short 6 week course and I have been asked to talk at the S.T.E.M. conference in March 2015.
I believe that as this technology expands, it will become more and more affordable; drones capable of high resolution photography are already sold for just over $1,000. I believe education on safe practices is essential, but in addition to this, an amazing opportunity to develop young minds in the areas of electronics, physics, aviation, programming and mechanics is waiting for us right now. Open source platforms such as those sold by 3D Robotics can be developed on in ways limited only by available resources and the owner’s imagination. With the help of Skyward, AirVu was able to get its start in this exciting new industry.