2 local pilots pave way for commercial drones

Drone technology is quickly becoming more advanced, and more common. And two local Tampa Bay Area pilots are paving the way for the commercial use of drones right here in our backyard.

Amazon engineers are working on what they call an "octo-copter,' a mini-drone that will fly packages to your doorstep in 30 minutes. This is the future, and Stuart O'Shannon and Jason Doyle can't wait.

They are professional pilots, flight instructors, and now certified commercial Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operators.

Their day job is at the controls of a helicopter, other times a plane. But this is their newest dream-- starting their own company doing this new kind of flying.

"We decided this is a new frontier so we said let's get involved with this and we have and they're so fun to fly," O'Shannon said, "This technology is amazing. While it pains me to say this, there are certain parts of our profession that will become obsolete because of this technology."

So they decided to get ahead of the game. Their company is called Ver Sol UAS, and they are having the time of their lives carving their niche in this new frontier. They're already up and running, doing cinematography and photography. They've even documented the most remote areas of flooding from Hermine.

Currently, they're working on a construction time lapse for Publix, and they are shooting commercials for a variety of companies. 

The practical applications of drone technology are very cool and very futuristic. We've heard Amazon's Jeff Bezos talk about delivery drones. He imagines a world where seeing these is as commonplace as seeing mail trucks. UPS has already made its first medical delivery to a remote island.

In New Zealand, Dominoes made its first pizza delivery via drone.

The world of technology is changing fast, and the FAA is doing its best to keep up with this Unmanned Aircraft System technology. They just announced new regulations that will give these high tech drones their own airspace.

"You can't fly over people, you can't fly at night and you can't fly in controlled airspace," explained Doyle, "but there are certain waivers you can get."

Ver Sol is one of the only companies certified to fly at night, because they know what they're doing.

You have to have an FAA license to fly a drone commercially. The rules are strict and the fines are steep, because airspace is complicated and necessary to know-- even for hobbyists.

O'Shannon and Doyle showed us their newest drone in Curtis Hixon Park. Their remote control streamed live video back to an iPad and they were always monitoring altitude.

"We are in close proximity to Peter O'Knight, so by FAA law we have to let them know we will be conducting UAS activity," O'Shannon said, "We have a hand radio so we can listen to incoming traffic on the flight radio."

"This is advanced, and it's evolving daily," Doyle commented as he watched the video from the drone's camera, "This has forward-looking and downward-looking collision avoidance."

"These drones can fly 22,000 feet into the air," O'Shannon continued, "They have a 5-mile range on them. However, again, part of the FAA stipulation right now is that you can't be beyond the line of site, but it's a lot of fun. People are always stopping and asking questions. It's really neat."

Who knows what the future will see, but it sure is fun to think about.