This article goes to print the week after International Women’s Day, giving the AUVSI team plenty to reflect on how this dynamic UAS industry is changing and evolving professional career paths and opportunities in technology, business, aviation and science.

It is only fitting that AUVSI is proud of its own diversity milestone, employing its first Chief Pilot and Vice President of Safety and Regulatory Affairs, Tracy Lamb, who is not only an experienced commercial pilot, international airline pilot, flight instructor and safety expert, but is also a trailblazer in the field of unmanned aircraft safety, having lead UAS programs around the world for six years, authored technical whitepapers and a book chapter being published later this year. 

Tracy was employed by AUVSI in September of 2017 to spearhead a program that President and CEO Brian Wynne had identified with industry members as a worrying gap in the developing commercial UAS environment — a lack in standardized training and certification mechanisms.  The program that took over 12 months to develop was launched last November and is representative of its namesake, the Trusted Operator Program, or TOP.

Training and certification are a vital component in the safe advancement of the commercial UAS industry, and a critical component in supporting the growing number of commercial remote pilots. The AUVSI Trusted Operator Program is a certification effort developed with industry consensus and support. Although a new program, TOP is already gaining recognition from the Federal Aviation Administration and international organizations as a solution to a growing industry problem and encompasses more than basic FAA regulations. TOP points to more than 300 accredited and recognized industry standards and best practices, including from ISO, ASTM, ANSI, NIMS, NFPA, OSHA, RTCA, ICAO, IEEE and more, thus providing clarity and a method of compliance to safety and best practice.

There is both an opportunity and a need for a common framework to support and verify a UAS operator’s safety, competence and reliability, and providing a level of assurance to customers, employers and other beneficiaries of UAS services. TOP provides this framework by way of accredited standards that are relevant to many UAS operating environments.

As the world’s oldest and largest trade association dedicated to unmanned systems and robotics, AUVSI does not delivering training, nor is it a qualified aviation audit company. Therefore, in the TOP certification program model, AUVSI enters into licensing agreements with certifying bodies and training providers — called TOP Partners — to act as the association’s agents to deliver training, testing and certification of applicants for the TOP credential.

The program was modeled on existing aviation certification and verification programs, which brings some foundational strengths of integrity and reliability which will support the needs of the commercial UAS industry TOP is built on fundamental aviation and quality principals supports advancing commercial UAS regulatory framework.

The Trusted Operator Program fills the gap between minimally prescriptive operating regulations and the need for a uniform level of knowledge, flight proficiency, training, safety and risk management practices. Filling this gap is expected to be valued by employers and customers of commercial UAS operators. Fundamentally, there has been disparity in the levels of remote pilot “quality” due to the lack of uniform training standards delivered from UAS training providers. This verification in pilot competency, and an organization’s capacity and commitment for formal safety frameworks, offers end users assurance of safety, competence, and reliability — the heart of the TOP value proposition.

“Above all else, no matter who you are, or where you have come from, striving for excellence in your chosen profession, as a pilot, a remote pilot a software developer or anything you choose to do, is what will define your value proposition to the industry — and our world,”  Lamb says.

Women and diversity in robotics

AUVSI also celebrates diversity in the industry through its annual Women and Diversity in Robotics Forum, held during the annual XPONENTIAL conference and exhibition. The forum brings together XPONENTIAL attendees across industry, government and academia representing different career levels and working across technology sectors to discuss how the unmanned and autonomous systems community can work together to create a culture of inclusivity.

Attendee response to the forum has been very positive from female and male attendees, as organizations in tech work to address challenges including recruiting and retaining talent in a competitive market, addressing wage gap concerns and fostering internal cultures that embrace diversity in the voices and perspectives influencing business decisions.

This year, the forum is focused on being tactical versus addressing the big issues in a general way — how are leaders actively inspiring students to embrace STEM? What are women doing in the workplace to find mentors and advocates to advance their careers? How are senior executives influencing change right now within their own organizations?

New for 2019, the forum will kick off with a keynote address from Chicago investor Rumi Moreles. Her presentation will be followed by 45-minute discussion groups.

XPONENTIAL is being held April 29-May 2 in Chicago at McCormick Place. For information and to register, go here.

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