5 Questions with a UAVIP

Commercial UAV News will be conducting a series of interviews with top asset owners who are set to attend the Commercial UAV Expo as UAVIPs. We’ll be exploring the issues and interests of large enterprise users of UAVs in a specific way that no other industry event focuses on.

See all of the entries in the series

Find out more about the UAVIP Program and see if you qualify

I’ve already detailed the ways in which the Commercial UAV Expo is a different kind of drone show, but I wanted to showcase how and why other people feel the same way. To do so, I connected with Ali Ahmadi, who is set to attend the Expo as a UAVIP, which takes place October 31st – November 2nd at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Ali is the Co-founder/COO at AirZaar, a software platform for drone operators and their customers. He served in the US military where he flew multiple UAV platforms, but for the past few years he’s been focused on the commercial applications of the technology, and I wanted to discuss how he’s seen and used the technology throughout his career. We also talk about FAA regulations, the approach his clients are looking to take with UAVs and what he’s hoping to see at the Commercial UAV Expo.

Click here to see the full conference program.


Jeremiah Karpowicz: You have experience and insight in the UAV world from just about every side of the fence. That starts with your military background and runs all the way through the work you’re doing now on the commercial side. Can you talk about some of the things that are similar or different about how people in each of these areas approaches UAV technology?

Ali Ahmadi

Ali Ahmadi

Ali Ahmadi: When you are on the military/DOD side, the approach is almost always about technical capabilities & engineering specifications. Our main concern was about the integration of the UAV with other systems within the military ecosystem. The customer was the mission commander in the battle field. There was no predecessor to your market study & product development. Your user interface was designed for soldiers, sailors, marines & airmen (In no particular order……... GO NAVY!!!).

The regulatory rules & processes were very different & similar at the same time. Airspace & altitude restrictions were there but they were controlled by the local ATC Officer. Training & certification requirements differed for each branch & each UAV platform. They were a lot more rigorous than current FAA rules & now even more so with the Part 107 announcement.

Whether you are in the military or in the commercial industry, UAVs are designed to be at the right place at the right time to acquire data or deliver a specific package. People outside an industry that is using UAVs still haven’t caught onto how massive the market opportunity is, which has meant we’ve needed to spent a lot of time educating people. When they finally understand the true potential for business growth, their eyes light up and then we can see they finally “get it”.

The commercial side is where things get really exciting. We are commercializing technologies that have existed for decades and in true entrepreneurial style, offering software products that allow these technologies to be used efficiently and deliver a strong ROI to our clients. UAVs are changing the face of various industries at a rapid pace, and AirZaar is going to be playing a key role in defining that future.


Young Ali flying the Pioneer UAV system during his time serving in the US Navy

Young Ali flying the Pioneer UAV system during his time serving in the US Navy

Your experience in the commercial segment breaks down even further though, as you’ve worked on the end user side with UAVs in utilities and agriculture. Can you tell us about the ways in which you’ve see professionals in these spaces come to understand how UAV can impact their operations and bottom line? 

No matter which industry use case we talk about, it all comes down to the value of the decision being made in terms of the data that’s being acquired. Each industry differs with respect to the ROI value that can be extracted from the dataset.

In agriculture, the in-season real-time data has become more & more prevalent for farm management decisions. Crop commodity price fluctuations directly impact customers’ ability & desire for utilization of UAV services. The barrier to entry for the UAV industry is typically based on pricing structures. The value of the decisions made is not usually realized near-term.

The utility industry is different in the sense that the ROI of UAV services can have a greater impact on day-to-day operations. Energy price fluctuations have far less downstream impact to the UAV industry. However, the barrier to entry is greater for liability, safety & data security reasons. Additionally, the value of the decisions made from the dataset can be realized almost instantly (i.e. proactive maintenance on power lines).


Have you had many struggles with FAA regulations? How have/will those issues change in light of Part 107?

The struggles with the FAA are usually focused around the Visual-Line-of-Site (VLOS) restrictions & the lengthy approval process for 333 exemptions.

We have personally experienced and seen many clients delay or defer their UAV programs due to the lengthy process for obtaining the 333 exemption. Given the Part 107 ruling, we expect this barrier to be rectified which will encourage more and more end users and service provider to enter the growing market of the commercial UAV industry.

The VLOS regulations have limited many industries including Utilities, Agriculture and Railroads from achieving maximum ROI from day to day commercial UAV operations.

The Part 107 ruling is a great step in the right direction in terms of creating a strong foundation for the future of the commercial UAV industry. Additionally, the research and development of Unmanned Transportation Management (UTM) systems will help pull UAVs into the current aviation infrastructure to enable future growth and disruption of inefficient systems and technologies.

AirZaar offers compliance - as part of our software package- and just as it’s true in other industries, compliance software is big business. Industries around the world are realizing its far cheaper to pay for compliance software rather than be paralyzed by indecision due to seemingly insurmountable regulatory hurdles or - even worse - be hit with massive fines for missing something.


Are the professionals you’re working with for AirZaar looking to use UAV’s to change their approach, or merely to augment something they’re already doing? Do those sort of expectations tie into how you’re able to help your clients start, grow and manage their internal or external UAV teams?

The AirZaar team during their monthly “St. Louis Commercial UAV/Drone Group” meetup.

The AirZaar team during their monthly “St. Louis Commercial UAV/Drone Group” meetup.

We have seen clients use UAV’s for both purposes. Our mining industry clients are a good example as they use laser scanners for face profiling of quarry benches.

Instead of being bound by the terrestrial limitations, companies are using UAV platforms to give exact measurements in a far easier manner than the traditional methods. We’re talking about inexact solutions like estimating inventory by trucking weight and number of truckloads. Mining clients can get exact measurements of their stockpiles in a fraction of the time it took before, streamlining their operations and increasing their ROI.

We also have end users reaching out to us for education on how UAV technologies can solve different pain points or inefficiencies. These clients are looking to see how UAV systems can provide a competitive advantage for them in their respective industries. It’s exciting to be part of a company that is solving so many problems efficiently for our clients and to be part of an industry experiencing explosive growth that is only going to get larger over the next several years.


You’re set to attend the Commercial UAV Expo, which will be taking place on October 31st and running through November 2nd in Las Vegas. What are you hoping to see and experience at the event? 

My hope is to see more and more industry end users coming to the Commercial UAV Expo and get a better understanding of the Commercial UAV industry.

Also, the integration of remote sensory platforms is a current pain point for many of our clients. I’m curious to see what type of new technological advancement have been made in these fields.

Due to my past military & DOD experience, I’d like to see the commercialization of ex-military technology and the pricing point of these remote sensory devices. The industry is evolving so fast that it has become hard to keep up with the advancements, and the expo provides a great venue to do so.



Do you qualify for a UAVIP free conference pass? Find out here, or simply register for the Commercial UAV Expo