UAV Market Gains Speed in MexicoWed, 09/09/2020 - 11:29
Q: How has the Mexican market for UAVs grown in recent years and what new market niches has the company identified?
A: The use of drones in Mexico is growing at a very fast pace. We estimate that during 2019 and the first half of 2020, the market grew by 60 percent. At this rate, drone piloting will soon be among the top careers in terms of demand. Previously, drones were mostly used for photography and video, but there are now many more applications for UAVs in cartography, monitoring of oil pipes and electric lines, agriculture and mining. Every day, new uses come to light. For instance, a recent application we are seeing is the use of UAVs with an infrared camera to scan entire fields. This information is later processed to identify fertile areas, monitor the growth of crops, droughts and other issues that might concern farmers. Drones are also being used in topography and bringing significant time savings; what took a topographer several hours or days can take a drone a few minutes.
Q: What advances have been made in UAV regulations and which areas must be tackled next?
A: Through lobbying, we have supported great advances in regulations concerning safety and training in the use of UAVs. A significant achievement was the passing of NOM-107-SCT3-2019 in December 2019 as it establishes requirements to operate a UAV. We will continue working with the Federal Agency of Civil Aviation (AFAC) in the regulation of UAVs, especially those that carry passengers, such as the Chinese EHang 216. This innovative drone, of which there is one already in Mexico, has a cabin for two passengers but does not require a pilot as it is remotely controlled. So far, it has been used for scenic flights in Mexico. To date, there are no Mexican regulations concerning the use of UAVs and it will be necessary for regulators to catch up as technology in this area moves extremely fast. Another important area to tackle is UAVs developed by universities for research purposes.
Q: How do Cramex’s training courses in the use of UAVs answer the needs of the market?
A: We developed several new training courses for the use of UAVs weighing between 2kg and 25kg. These courses operated without any issues until the COVID-19 outbreak forced us to pause them. But now, we have been authorized to offer them online, so we have been gradually reopening them. We are also introducing theoretical and practical courses for complete beginners whose goal is not to be licensed as drone pilots. We are also introducing specialized training courses in the use of UAVs for aerial topography, precision agriculture, video and photography and we are developing courses in software for monitoring and cartography, among other uses, and in maintenance and repair of UAVs. We also created a program for children on how to build a drone.
Due to the outbreak, we also moved our other AFAC-approved training courses online. These courses are in aerial security, quality, management of dangerous substances and helicopter maintenance. The challenge was supporting our personnel and students in the use of these online platforms.
Q: What were the main operational changes Cramex identified when the General Directory of Civil Aviation (DGAC) transformed into AFAC?
A: Operations continue to be the same after the DGAC transformed into AFAC. The agency continues operating under the previous structure and processes and with the same people. While the sector was hopeful for a reform to the DGAC, the process has been slow due to several budget cuts. There have been very few changes so we expect that in the future, the agency will change its structure to streamline paperwork and approvals. It is necessary to fully restructure AFAC’s normativity to induce companies to continue operating in the aviation industry and for more companies to enter the sector.
Q: How has demand for new heliports evolved considering the slowdown in the local real estate sector?
A: There is still demand for heliports in Mexico City, although some projects have been paused due to the outbreak. However, Mexico City still has the most heliports in the country, followed by Monterrey, Guadalajara and Puebla. Infrastructure developers are increasingly aware that in a few years, mobility will not rely on cars but on manned drones.
We are also starting new projects outside of Mexico City. We recently allied with Craft Avia Center, which is importing a series of Ansat helicopters from Russian Helicopters. The first of these arrived last month in Guadalajara and our role will be to train pilots and maintenance workers in the operation of these units. The Ansat is a versatile helicopter with 3.6-ton capacity and 13.5m length, which means it can comfortably accommodate seven passengers and two pilots. This helicopter can be used for executive aviation, cargo, rescue, firefighting and as an air ambulance. Moreover, it is 40 percent more cost competitive than its direct competitors, such as those from Augusta.
Q: What have been Cramex’s recent milestones in the heliport segment?
A: In 2019, we worked with AeroConsulting and Peru’s General Direction of Civil Aviation to begin developing heliports in the South American country. We also received a letter from the latter that certified us as specialized advisers on helicopters. I was also certified as an expert in heliports by the College of Aeronautic Engineers, the third person in all of Mexico to be certified by this school.
We are also working to develop sustainable heliports in Valle de Bravo and Guadalajara. These heliports are sustainable because they do not involve a concrete base. Instead, the ground is compacted similarly to a highway and then covered in grass.
Q: What are Cramex’s priorities concerning both UAVs and heliports for the coming months?
A: We will focus on training courses in the use of UAVs for agriculture, topography, video and photography but we are also participating in other training courses. For instance, in July, we hosted a webinar on the construction of heliports with the Association of Aeronautic Engineers. Our priority will be the certification of drones that transport passengers.