Urban air operations

You can be a part of this exciting new field

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Nina Dorfmayr, Manager at the Drone Competence Center at Austro Control and Jenn Player Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs at Skydio, meet with Eszter Kovác of DroneTalks at the ADW stage. In a special edition of 'Women behind the drone revolution' they talk about their role. Both ladies introduce themselves.

Nina Dorfmayr, works as a manager at the Drone Competence Center at Austro Control,  the air navigation services provider that controls the Austrian airspace. The Drone Competence Center is a section of the Austrian Civil Aviation Authority, and it's handling all drone related topics. “We issue operational authorizations, operator certificates of pilot competency, provide registration for drone operators and plan and conduct safety promotion measures”, Dorfmayr explains. “On the other hand  Austria Control also has the role of an Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP). So the safe integration of manned and unmanned aviation is a very important topic for us.” 

Jenn Player leads the aviation regulatory affairs team at Skydio, the leading US manufacturer of small drones. “Our mission is to make the world more productive, creative and safe with autonomous flight”, says Player. “We focus on working with customers, with regulators and with standards development organizations to advance autonomy and to unlock safe and effective drone operations.” 

Jenn, did you always dream of working in the aviation business?
“Yes, I did. It was a lifelong passion. It started very young. Flying machines are a wonder. And I was always fascinated by that and wanted to work in as many aspects of aviation as I could; from flying to engineering and now on to the regulatory side. I have a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from Pennsylvania State University in the United States. So, my background is in aeronautical engineering. I spent the first part of my career working on the traditional aviation side in crewed aircraft and then found my way into the drone space, first in R&D and in flight operations and now in aviation regulatory affairs.”

And you Nina?
“To be honest, I did not purposely choose a technical profession to begin with. I chose to study law, and I was always very interested in international law, aviation law. And then when I started my job as a legal advisor at the Austrian Civil Aviation Authority at Austro Control, this new topic of unmanned aircraft came up as consumer drones were getting more and more popular in Austria and there was no legal framework for it. So I was very interested in the topic from the beginning as the new technology was evolving very fast and it offered somehow the possibility to take part in creating new rules and regulations, more or less from scratch, which is very, very rare. So I became involved from the beginning with this, coordinating the topic within Austro Control and also with our Ministry of Transport leading various drone projects and then gaining also more technical expertise in this field along the way.”  

The drone industry is developing at lightning speed, much faster than traditional aviation. How is it to be part of this revolution?

Jenn: “It's definitely exciting to be a part of something that's evolving so rapidly, and that has so much promise to do so many good things and benefit society. I'm very proud to be a part of it. And I look forward to all the challenges that come up along the way and how we're going to overcome those.” 

What are the main challenges? 
Nina: “Besides the regulation topic and making innovative applications fit into the framework, I would definitely say the safe integration of manned and unmanned aviation. Especially from the perspective of ASNP’s. Because I think operations beyond visual line of sight offer a whole new range of use cases. But the appropriate mitigation of the risks and the final integration of manned and unmanned is very difficult, I think.” 
Jenn: “One of the most important changes, not really a challenge, is machine learning and on board computing. When I started working with drones, we already had miniaturized aviation technologies for guidance and navigation and control. We could build a flight plan, we could control the aircraft from the ground, we could point a camera. And this allowed drones to gain traction as a tool for aerial data gathering. These days we can put the equivalent of a supercomputer on board. And this enables the real time use of machine learning algorithms and that unlocks tremendous capabilities. So I think we're on the cusp of a next phase where a drone is truly an aerial robot that can see and understand the environment and take action to reduce workload on the human crew or to maintain safety in a complex and changing environment.” 

You both said technology is always ahead of the regulatory framework. How do you cope with that Nina?
“We’re keeping up quite well. In Europe we came from a lot of different national regulations to a European uniform regulation that is applicable in all member states. This was a very important step. We are now following the risk based approach. We are allowing operators to transfer their use cases from one member state to another in an easier way. For us as an authority, it's always important to act as an enabler for new use cases and to promote innovation. We definitely see this as our role, but always within a safe legal environment and also not risking to lose acceptance of the general public.” 

At ADW Hybrid you are both in the panel Women behind the Drone Revolution. How important is it for women to be part of the drone industry?
Nina: “I think it's always good to have a variety of different views and different opinions. Anything gets more creative if you have more diversity at the table. And diversity is not only male and female, but also different age groups and different nationalities. They always cater for a very balanced approach and also to discover some opportunities and possibilities that you wouldn't have thought of before.”
Jenn: “I couldn’t agree more. Giving a voice to women who are contributing and working in the field and showing that it can be done is a great way to just showcase and highlight and inspire others. Young women in particular. It's important to see that there's a way to get there. There's a path to reaching one's goals, there's a path to success. If you're a lawyer or an engineer, project manager, whatever your contribution may be, there's lots to do in this field. And when we showcase women that are contributing every day in this exciting field that's a perfect way to message to everyone that you're welcome. You can be a part of this and you can do this.”

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