Elon Drone Day helps pilots, educators and community members elevate their knowledge level

To address the ever-increasing popularity of commercial and recreational drone use, as well as examine related safety rules and regulations, the School of Communications hosted the inaugural Elon Drone Day, attracting nearly 110 attendees to campus on Nov. 8.

The inaugural Elon Drone Day attracted more than 100 community members to campus on Nov. 8. The daylong program concluded with an afternoon flight demonstration where NCDOT officials showcased the Wingtra drone, which has a VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) design that allows it to work in a wide variety of environments.

Nearly 110 recreational and commercial pilots, transportation and safety officials, educators, students and community members interested in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) descended on Elon’s campus on Nov. 8 for the inaugural Elon Drone Day.

As part of the daylong program that consisted of panel discussions, keynote talks and an afternoon flight demonstration, pilots, educators and officials answered questions regarding regulations, safety and trends in the drone industry.

UAS pilot Samuel Stansberry talks with an attendee at the Causey Aviation Unmanned table during the Elon Drone Day event in Snow Family Grand Atrium.

Hosted in partnership with the N.C. Department of Transportation, FAA Safety Team and others, Drone Day covered a wide spectrum of commercial and public safety applications and topics, including remote ID, night operations, flight over people, FAASTeam Ops and Maintenance, the TRUST program, Part 107 certification, drone-based delivery, educational implementation of UAS tech, public safety utility, and legal considerations.

Check out our Flickr album from Elon Drone Day!

For Senior Lecturer Randy Piland, who organized Drone Day and has promoted drones and related safety regulations for the past five years, education was the main focus of the day’s programming – an area that has been lacking in recent years, according to attendees.

“Several months back, the idea for a Drone Day event came about as I saw interest growing around the various areas involving unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV) or drones,” Piland said. “I felt this would be a way to connect multiple disciplines on campus to the importance of drone use and communicate safety along with pilot certification.”

Keyona Wells, a VDC specialist for the Choate Construction Company, was one of seven panelists during a morning session that addressed a variety of drone-related topics from drone delivery to legal concerns when flying.

In recent years, Piland has attended several webinars, online briefings, and in-person demonstrations, learning from – and getting to know –  experts from the N.C. Department of Transportation. As his connections to the industry grew, Piland said he saw an opportunity to partner with NCDOT to provide the community with updates, sharing the importance of learning safe practices, earning certifications, and what the future may hold.

“NCDOT has helped in so many ways, including connecting me with the FAA Safety Team members and other contacts around the mid-state,” Piland said.

Experts and professionals from business and government participated in the educational sessions held in Turner Theatre, with several vendors and organizations set up in Snow Family Grand Atrium. Among those on hand were personnel from Zipline International, CloudFactory, Alamance County Emergency Management, Nine Ten Drones, NCDOT, Vertograph, Choate Construction Company, and legal specialists Aviation Barristers.

“What started as a way to help educate campus partners turned out to be a way of connecting drone pilots and enthusiasts of all levels beyond our campus,” Piland said. “I hope this event will serve as the beginning of communicating more about this fast-growing innovation of unmanned, autonomous aircraft.”

Prior to the event, TC Freeman, an aviation safety specialist with the NCDOT Division of Aviation, described the event as a “boon for the leaders of the next generation and a great way to help us ensure people are operating drones safely and responsibly.” He said the department “jumped on the opportunity” to collaborate with FAA and other industry partners to engage the community and university students about drone safety and the future of the industry.

Paul Rossi, COO and chief pilot for Nine Ten Drones, commended Piland and the university for hosting the event, bringing together interested parties from across the state. Rossi, who served as a panelist and participated in the flight demonstration, said the programming is imperative to the industry as it expands and seeks out qualified pilots and staff members.

Vern Shurtz (far right), a sUAS remote pilot, leads Drone Day attendees through an aviation exercise on Elon’s South Campus.

“From an educational standpoint, I really think the industry won’t flourish until there is a flow of pilots and educated individuals,” Rossi said. “And the high schools and colleges are just starting to introduce (drone programs). We need applicants who are applying for jobs they are already qualified for. When you are putting your resume together, that is what differentiates you from someone else. Being a certified drone pilot would put people at the top of the list. For institutions to make an introduction (to the drone industry) and to start that flow of qualified applicants is huge.”

Having flown drones commercially for three years, Rossi has a strong understanding of what the industry looks like in North Carolina. And he explained having functions like Elon Drone Day are vital to the industry and its growth. There has been an educational void since the cancelation of the NC Drone Summit, he said.

“There has been no other drone events for industry, users and schools, businesses, recreational and commercial users – nothing like this exists, and these events are so important,” Rossi said. “It is not easy to put together something like this. For Randy Piland and Elon to pull together an event like this is a big deal for our industry. It is definitely needed.”

Among those in attendance was Scott Jean, a technical services coordinator for Elon University’s Campus Safety and Police, who received his FAA Part 107 drone license a few years ago.

A personal interest brought the Elon staff member to Drone Day, but he can easily see applications for drone use in his professional career.

“I have my own personal drone, and I enjoy working with the technology,” said Jean, a few minutes after the drone demonstration on South Campus. “Drones have so many opportunities, as you could see from this morning’s sessions. For marketing, for campuses, for police, for mapping, for construction – there are so many uses.”

However, before an individual can make use of unmanned aircraft systems, they must have an understanding of its dangers, he explained.

“There is a little bit of a misconception with drones – like anything else,” Jean said. “If a car is used the right way, it is a great tool. If it is used the wrong way, it can be a bad tool. It is the same thing with drones. If people follow the rules and use them the right way, drones can be a valuable and important tool. It is just about educating yourself and knowing how to properly use it.”

Elon Drone Day supporters

Piland extended a thank you to the following organizations that supported and participated in the inaugural Elon Drone Day event.