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
Pearla Cordero | COO, Bella Wings Aviation

“Safety all starts with understanding regulations,” Pearla said. “It’s the basis of building a solid foundation for growth.” From there, she said, you should learn deeply about your equipment. Pearla commended her team at BWA for taking the initiative to do exactly that.

“With our team at Bella Wings, they’re so passionate about what they do, that they go out of their way to ensure that they know exactly what is required of them, and they study materials. They fly the different platforms we have without having been told. And we encourage that. We like that. We encourage our team to fly every UAS in our fleet to build knowledge and experience and flight time.”

Knowledge is another vital tool that Pearla stresses the importance of. “In this industry

there’s always something new overnight — a new software, a new platform. It’s important to stay abreast on what’s going on out there; that’s definitely a key to keeping safe.” She adds that constant learning is what makes a person a good pilot, and it is what will keep you ahead in this ever-changing industry.


Within the past few years, the drone industry has really taken off. But really, this industry launched well before that. Teddy Estrellado, Technical Director at Drone Optics Guam, a local Guam-based drone service provider and Guam’s authorized DJI reseller, has been flying drones for 14 years! He too spoke heavily about safety with drones.

Some of Teddy’s thoughts were similar to ours and Charlie’s: “Safety has always been the biggest concern me and my partner have had.” And, like Charlie, Teddy stressed the importance of finding an alternate landing site. He said that one big reason to look for other

Teddy Estrellado | Technical Director | Drone Optics Guam
Teddy Estrellado | Technical Director | Drone Optics Guam

landing zones is, actually, people. “One of the biggest challenges is, once the drone gets up in the air, people start gravitating toward the area, sometimes with good intentions, sometimes with bad intentions, asking questions. So we have a secondary landing spot, an isolated backup place where we could land.” He and his team also perform other safety measures before each flight. “We do a walkthrough of the entire area, we talk to the team about what we’re going to do, have the pilot talk to the team about everything — low branches, air traffic, airspace. They do NOTAMs. Communication is key.”

But Teddy also had some perspectives that no one else mentioned. Dong, Charlie, and Pearla talked about following regulations, which we all advise people to do. But Teddy has been flying for 14 years — well before drone regulations were even created. “There wasn’t much available of the ‘Do’s and ‘Don’ts,’ so we learned ourselves.”

Teddy was able to learn general principles of aviation by being a part of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and he credits them for playing a huge role in his growth as a remote pilot. According to their website, AMA is a group that “represents the aero modeling community worldwide.” Teddy, early on in his interest in drones, spent a lot of time with modelists and hobbyists from the local AMA chapter, observing and taking in general principles of flight and aviation, and transferring those principles over into the drone world. “We really learned from them,” he said of AMA.

Teddy talked a little bit about Part 107. He said anyone who wants to do anything commercial with their drone should — and needs to — get their Part 107. And while that teaches you regulations, Teddy said, “it doesn’t help you at all in terms of actually how to fly a drone.” For hobbyists who want to learn how to fly, he doesn’t recommend Part 107 — but he wholeheartedly recommends joining your local chapter of AMA. “It’s really about understanding your equipment, and about understanding how to operate your equipment.” Guam has a local AMA chapter of which Teddy is a member. Check them out if you too are interested in joining.


In addition to the many on-island aviation-related business owners and enthusiasts, there are 3 individuals who have signed up and been approved to become FAA Safety Team (FAAST) Representatives. The FAA Safety Team is a nationwide group of volunteers who are passionate about aviation and aviation safety, and who care about educating the community in such matters. Guam’s three FAAST Representatives have already been mentioned in this article: Pearla Cordero, COO and co-founder of Bella Wings Aviation; Dong Lee, founder and co-owner of 2cofly; and myself (Greg Barnes. I work with Dong at 2cofly and have done some work with BWA).

What is interesting about Guam’s FAA Safety Team Reps is this: All 3 of us have a keen interest not only in aviation and aviation safety in general; we all have a keen interest in drones and in drone safety. (Many of the nationwide FAA Safety Team Reps have a deep knowledge of aviation, but not necessarily about drones.)

As FAAST Representatives, one of our responsibilities is essentially to be teachers or consultants — to be available to members of the community who need or request assistance in areas we can help out with. As stated in the beginning of this article, we at 2cofly often get questions from the community about drones, and as FAA Safety Team Reps, that’s part of our job! If you have any questions about drones, drone regulations, drone safety, or any drone-related issue, please do not hesitate to reach out and ask your questions to any of Guam’s 3 FAAST Reps or any of Guam’s other incredible, talented drone professionals featured in this article!


 

BONUS CONTENT: An example question I as a Part 107 Pilot have gotten countless times, and the ensuing conversation:

THEM: “How far can you fly your drone?”

ME: “Do you mean how far CAN the drone go, or how far are we ALLOWED to go?”

THEM: “I mean, how far can you go?”

ME: “Well, there are tons of different ways to answer that question.”

THEM: “I just wanna know how far can a drone go.”

ME: “Well, I mean, theoretically, the drone could fly until the battery runs out.”

THEM: “How far is that?”

ME: “Ummmmmm…….” THEM: “Ok, let me ask it differently: [loud] HOW [louder] FAR [normal voice] can a drone go?”

ME: “Yeah, I know, I’m trying to figure out how to answer.”

THEM: “It’s an easy question.” ME: “Uh, no, not really. How far can a drone go if you fly it straight out? It depends on 1) Are you planning on flying it out until it dies, or also bringing it back? 2) how fast the drone can go, 3) battery capacity, 4) weather, including wind, 5) whether the drone has a failsafe on it such as a return-to-…”

THEM: [At this point, my voice begins to sound like a garbled mess in their head, and they begin to yawn and look around with tired eyes — all clear and apparent signs of a person’s utter thankfulness at having received a comprehensive answer!]

ME: “…ildings, or anything else that might cause a disruption in signal, such as a group of communications anten…”

THEM: [Eyes rolling into the back of their head]

ME: “…ortant thing to remember is that a drone needs to be kept within visual line of sight. That means you need to be able to see the drone at all times. Of course anoth…”

THEM: “WAIT… you need to be able to SEE it the WHOLE time?”

ME: “Yes.”

THEM: “……………… that’s boring.” [Walks away]


 




blog written by

Greg Barnes

Operations Manager

(671) 689-7939

greg@2cofly.com

www.2cofly.com


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