Technology

Talking flight with AirMap's Ben Marcus

AirMap is a leading global airspace intelligence platform for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones. Thousands of drones and hundreds of industry developers, airspace managers and other stakeholders rely on AirMap’s airspace intelligence and services to fly safely and communicate in low-altitude airspace. To provide greater insight into the company, we sat down with Ben Marcus, Chairman and Co-founder of AirMap to discuss the company’s journey and its insights into the aviation and drone industries.

Mapping out the journey

Q. What led to the creation of AirMap? Tell us about the journey.

A. I started my career as a flight instructor and later became a flight test engineer; prior to AirMap, I was the CEO of jetAVIVA, the world’s largest light business jet sales company. Based on my experience, I believe that, one day, driving to work will be a thing of the past. Flying is the future, and we can reach it through transforming drone operations from recreational devices to the next platform for urban air mobility – in fact it’s already here, as seen by the announcement by Uber Air that it will trial aerial taxi service in 2020. AirMap provides the ecosystem and infrastructure needed to offer situational awareness for drones, allows for beyond visual line-of-sight flights, and creates a safer and more efficient airspace.

I founded AirMap with Dr. Gregory McNeal, a seasoned expert in technology, law and public policy. Since 2015, the business has evolved alongside a rapidly growing drone industry, with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimating that there will be around 1.4 million hobbyist drones and over 835,000 commercial drones by 2023.

 

Q. How is AirMap helping to shape the drone/aviation industry?

A. To travel safely across the ever-changing conditions of low-altitude airspace, drone operations must consider a complex array of information, such as airspace regulations, manned and unmanned air traffic, weather and temporary flight restrictions (TFRs). Today, most places aren’t prepared to support complex drone operations at scale. AirMap makes this possible by ensuring that drones can understand real-time airspace conditions, plan and fly safe routes, and communicate with others. This allows all drone operators, fleet managers and airspace managers to be connected in real time through a digital traffic management system to operate their missions in the safest and most efficient ways possible - whether it’s flying at night, over controlled airspaces or above populated areas.

We’re already seeing progress with government regulators and policymakers better understanding the critical importance that Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) plays in creating safer skies, so that more complex drone operations can start to take flight to benefit many industries. For example, we’re excited to partner with the country of Switzerland to deploy Swiss U-space, Switzerland’s UTM infrastructure supporting the safe integration of drones into its low altitude airspace.

 

Q. The next phase for AirMap is focused on scaling drone operations safely and efficiently. How will the Macquarie Capital Venture Studio help to support this?

A. As UTM enables more complex drone operations, global corporations are also becoming more confident about investing in drone technology to support their businesses – which will mean increasingly crowded skies. With AirMap’s support, the drone economy is ready to scale to support a future of highly automated flights that will perform a diverse set of innovative missions safely – from remote sensing for the construction and insurance industries to package delivery and aerial commuting. Macquarie Capital, as a global leader in infrastructure with deep expertise among its team, including Michael Huerta, who is a former FAA Administrator as well as a Board Member of Delta Airlines, has significant specific expertise in the drone sector and scaling infrastructure projects globally.

Additionally, for drone operations to truly scale, it’s critical that policymakers and regulators continue to collaborate with the private sector to further develop regulations and stimulate progress in the drone economy. As AirMap sustains and scales its early leadership position in the drone infrastructure space, we will benefit from Macquarie Capital’s business experience and its key relationships in related industries and with government leaders and public stakeholders.

 

Moving from roads to the sky

Q. Could you talk to us about the integration services AirMap performs and why this is important?

A. AirMap APIs allow developers and drone manufacturers to easily access and consume mission critical UTM services to power safe drone operations at scale. Additionally, AirMap enables public authorities and airspace managers to deliver safety-critical services to drone operators in controlled airspace, including airspace information, registration, authorizations and traffic management services.

The worldwide adoption of UTM encourages the development of a global community of integrated drone operations and a sustainable drone economy. This will help realize our vision of moving from driving to flying.

 

Q. How often do weather and air traffic adversely affect drone use, and how do you offer your clients a solution to help navigate these?

A. Poor weather and air traffic are two of the most important considerations to monitor when flying any aircraft. AirMap’s UTM helps clients navigate these obstacles through the UTM dashboard and the AirMap for Drones mobile application. The UTM dashboard provides airspace managers with a comprehensive view of drones connected to the platform to help monitor the airspace. The AirMap for Drones app briefs drone operators before they submit their flights, provides insight into airspace conditions such as weather and airspace advisories, and allows operators to request near-automatic authorizations to operate in controlled airspace. These two AirMap features assist in both mitigating traffic and informing operators on whether airspace conditions are adequate for flight.

 

Q. How will drones play a greater role in post-disaster recovery in the future?

A. The systems that we provide have great potential to assist in post-disaster recovery. In the past two years, AirMap’s UTM services have supported search and rescue efforts for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Florence. AirMap provided Texas, Florida and North Carolina emergency response teams with airspace management dashboards and intelligence services to visualize and monitor hundreds of flights being conducted by emergency operation centers (EOCs) to support relief efforts as well as to alert drone operators logging flights with AirMap that they had entered airspace covered by the disaster Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) managed by the EOC. In post-disaster environments, drones and the UTM systems AirMap provides allow emergency responders to extend their efforts into areas previously thought unreachable.

 

Q. In what ways is your technology expected to impact the infrastructure and real assets spaces?

A. The potential benefits of more complex drone operations are widespread, including inspection and surveillance of critical infrastructures, resource management, mining, construction optimization, mass transportation network safety and efficiencies, commercial delivery, public safety and emergency first response.

As countries experiment with integrating drones into their communities, we’ll see increasingly innovative use cases. Among many other uses, drone technology will improve our lives by conducting operations in conditions considered unsafe for humans, enabling faster emergency response services, and creating more efficient delivery systems.

 

More about Ben Marcus

Ben Marcus is the Chairman and Co-founder of AirMap. He is an aviation expert and executive. Prior to AirMap, he co-founded and was CEO of jetAVIVA, the world’s largest light business jet sales company. He started his career as a flight instructor and later became a flight test engineer. Ben currently serves on the board of Angel Flight West. He is an FAA-certified Airline Transport Pilot and Flight Instructor with over 4,500 hours of flight experience and ratings in airplanes, helicopters, seaplanes, gliders and six types of jets.

Macquarie Capital Venture Studio

The Macquarie Capital Venture Studio is a unique initiative to identify and promote companies with the potential to accelerate industries including utilities, transportation, and environmental services.