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Guam Drone Professionals Talk Safety

by Greg Barnes

FAA Safety Team Representatives in Guam, 2cofly, Klara M, Bella Wings Aviation
Guam's 3 FAA Safety Team Representatives (from left): Dong Lee (2cofly), Pearla Cordero (BWA), Greg Barnes (2cofly)

Here at 2cofly, we get asked a lot of questions about drones. Most questions either include the words “…can you…” (questions about the drone’s ability, or about operational limitations), or start with “What if…” (questions about what we would do in certain scenarios).

(One such question is “How far can you fly a drone?” At the very bottom of this blog post, I write out how that question/answer usually goes. It’s somewhat funny; check it out at the end!)

Most people probably don’t even realize it, but if you boil any of these myriad questions down to the heart, they’re all pretty much about one thing: Safety.

Ypao beach, drone flying, Charlie Hermosa, Greg Barnes, Emmanuel Carino, Mike Quitugua
From left: Greg Barnes, Mike Quitugua, Emmanuel Carino, Charlie Hermosa

Safety is so integral and so important, that’s why it’s at the heart of most aviation regulations, including drone regulations.

Today, I want to look at drone safety. Specifically, I want to look at what drone professionals in Guam do to keep their operations safe.

2cofly, the drone service provider where I work, is a local Guam-based drone service provider which focuses on utilizing drones in construction. “Saying we take safety seriously

Sensys R3 aerial magnetometer, DJI M300 RTK, Guam
Dong Lee (2cofly founder, left) with Josh Hauge (intern)

is an understatement,” says Dong Lee, 2cofly founder and co-owner. He goes on to say why safety matters so much: “People generally view drones as just a hobby toy. But in reality, drones are aircraft — and we share the same airspace as manned aircraft in the NAS” (National Airspace System). Due to this focus on safety, 2cofly only accepts missions that we deem to be safe, and we have turned down or rescheduled some missions over safety concerns.

“There is a whole host of things that we do to ensure our mission safety,” Dong says: “from having a solid standard operating procedure for your specific mission, crew resource management, regular training and retraining on both knowledge & skill, understanding the full limitations of your drone and the safety features it has or doesn’t have, to a detailed

Dong Lee flying a drone at the Air Traffic Control Facility

checklist that includes everything from weather, airspace, and so on.” Dong adds that out of the 3 numbers on his phone’s speed dial, Guam’s Air Traffic Control tower is one of them — and that’s because the majority of 2cofly’s operations fall within controlled airspace where we are required to have a COA (Certificate of Authorization) from the FAA and call the tower. In fact, Dong calls the ATC tower so often, that they all know him.

Because safety is such a concern for us, and because we also want the next generation of Guam’s drone pilots to care about safety and fly responsibly, we are actively developing an online + offline Part 107 training course set to launch summer 2022. Title 14 CFR Part 107 (often shortened to “Part 107”) is the part of the Code of Federal Regulations created by the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation that sets parameters around the commercial operation of sUAS (“small unmanned aircraft systems,” i.e. drones) within the United States National Airspace System.

Drones for kids

The online portion of 2cofly’s course will not only help aspiring remote pilots pass their Part 107 exam, but it will also instill a sense of urgency in them regarding safety. In addition, the offline portion of the course will allow new pilots to fly real drones with hands-on, in-person training right here on Guam.

Another Guam-based drone service provider, Bella Wings Aviation (BWA), was co-founded by CEO Charlie Hermosa and COO Pearla Cordero. BWA is especially known for having put

Charlie Hermosa | CEO, Bella Wings Aviation Guam
Charlie Hermosa | CEO, Bella Wings Aviation

on Guam’s first ever drone light show on Liberation Day 2021 with a 100-drone fleet.

“For us, safety is always our #1 priority,” Charlie told me when I asked him about safety measures at BWA. He went on to explain that their safety protocols are designed not just around personal safety of those near the aircraft, but of course also around Part 107 regulations. Those regulations also deal with personal property damage and the safety of bystanders, which Charlie went on to talk a bit about.

“We go through our lists and check any issues in regards to personal safety, surrounding people, and obviously aviation safety,” Charlie said. “Once the drone gets in the sky, we have protocols in place in case we have to land it safety in a different place, or in case we have to abort the mission. If anything is not responding, we have protocols in place to be able to switch it back to manual mode.” (Charlie said this because many of their flight operations are fully automated, meaning a computer, having first been pre-programmed by a human, is now operating the drone.) “Also, weather is a factor in safety, and should be considered as something that could hinder the operation or, worse, put anybody in danger.”

Team Bella Wings Aviation
Team Bella Wings Aviation

Pearla, COO of Bella Wings, is a very accomplished woman who is also President of Women in Aviation International Guam, as well as a private pilot license (PPL) holder. Her background and time in various aspects of aviation is extensive.

Pearla Cordero | COO, Bella Wings Aviation