NORMAL — Unlike many industries, drone pilots are hungry for government regulations, an expert said.
"We want some regulation on everybody else driving on the streets, right?" said Sharon Rossmark, founder and CEO of advocacy organization Women and Drones. "We want some regulation on everybody who's flying in our national airspace."
Rossmark addressed current regulations as well as how to get into drone-piloting, opportunities in the drone industry and drone safety in the keynote address Friday at the Central Illinois' First Drone Conference event at Heartland Community College.
Beginners should keep in mind a few cardinal rules, she said: start small, know safety guidelines, use a pre-flight checklist and get insurance. That means getting the right drone for your needs, researching best practices for flying and being as meticulous getting ready for a flight as an airplane pilot.
"You (might say), 'I'm flying as a hobbyist,' but if you hit somebody — your drone drops out of the sky — you'll want insurance," she said.
Having solid regulations and safety protocols is getting more important because more people are flying drones by the day, Rossmark said. In the last two years, 1 million new pilots have registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, and by 2020 experts expect 7 million drones to be in use.
That includes 2.7 million drones for commercial purposes including agriculture, construction, journalism, real estate and utilities. That means not only jobs for pilots but also jobs for maintenance crews, and it gives workers tools to do old jobs in new and better ways.
"Agriculture — this is great, because we're in the heart of Illinois — is a huge growth area for drones," she said.
Commercial pilots, but not hobbyists, are licensed by the FAA and must follow guidelines, said Rossmark. Those include passing a Transportation Security Administration background check, which helps prevent drones from being used for terrorism — though they may not be safe technologically.
"They're about as secure as any wireless security system, because it is password-protected, but that doesn't mean somebody can't break into it. With all the hacking going on, it's a real possibility. I'm sure a lot of people are not necessarily changing the password on their systems," she said.
Rossmark's address kicked off the first-of-its-kind conference, created by Heartland's continuing education department and developed with the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council and McLean County Chamber of Commerce.
Organizers were pleased with 210 in attendance said Scot Smigel, a Heartland Community College administrator. He said the event is likely inspire not only a second annual conference but intermittent training programs.