Rabih Bou Rashid
“The third dimension, our orbit and beyond, holds our greatest, still unused potential.“
– Rabih Bou Rashid
Learn more on: https://www.feds.ae/
Rabih Bou Rashid – Managing Director at Falcon Eye Drones (FEDS)
Tell us something about your current position and your professional background.
I started FEDS in 2014 and am currently running our three branches across the Middle East between the UAE and Saudi Arabia. I came from a classic training in business with no real background in drones (who did?), but before setting up FEDS, I spent over a year travelling the planet studying drones and their future potential before I decided to start up in Dubai. I learned all I could from flying them to building them, about the types of drones and their related software and applications and the future benefits they could provide. After that, it was very evident to me that drones will be an unstoppable new tech and have a real future, which led me to set up such a service in the region. Today we are the largest drone-as-a-service operator in the whole of the Middle East and easily top 10 in the world.
What is your perspective on drones in the next years?
The industry has been growing exponentially here since 2016, and we see this aggressive growth continuing for the next few years. Naturally, growth is driven by the demand as industries start to realise the benefits drones bring and begin to have more trust in them. Also, regulators, while always behind technological advancement, are finally playing a positive role. We see this internationally, but more so in the UAE.
The days of the proof of concept (POC) are long gone now. A few years back many of the service providers had to go through POC phases trying to win clients and convince executives to change from their trusted old ways to new faster and more efficient ways of getting inspections/surveys done. We are seeing large contracts and full-scale adoption in the last two years, which is a big sign about the direction of the industry. Another sign is the big names like ARAMCO, for instance, implementing drones in so many parts of their businesses, from inspections and security to surveys special applications and this is happening in many more companies.
Also, on the drone services level, we are starting to see large companies develop, no longer start-ups but real future proof businesses. I am not referring to companies living off investors money, I am talking about the few around the world that are profitable and organically growing like FEDS.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge for the drone industry?
The number one challenge is and will be regulators. Today we have no standards for drone manufacturing and a basic guideline for drone operations. Without international standards, most drones in the market today are prototypes, built with the best intentions of their manufacturers. I would like to see regulators move faster on that end, implementing standardisation, giving big players more confidence to operate. Also, on the operations side, in some countries, we are having the most basic of hobbyists as pilots in command of flights over urban areas or high worth assets due to lack of expertise and ignorance from the end client. When it comes to real jobs in controlled airspace or over sensitive areas, most do not know that a drone pilot is closer to an airline pilot than to a video gamer.
I guess that’s the way our world works, we are waiting for enough accidents before regulators take serious actions (think car seatbelts). Without these guidelines and as a new industry, most end clients end up relying on their procurement department to choose an operator, and they will often go for the cheapest. As we see around the world today, cheapest equals a high rate of failure to deliver on the project, leading to companies believing that drones are not ready yet rather than questioning their choice of operator. It is a temporary challenge though as the market grows and more case studies are published.
What are some specific features of the drone market in the MEA region?
The ME region is large, made up of about 18 countries, or so (depending who you ask), and each has its own regulations with no cross-border agreements between Civil Aviation or other authorities. In some countries, drones are still completely banned and illegal; in others, they have the military controlling usage with very few markets having published regulations to follow. Although in almost all the ME countries, commercial work is possible through special exemptions. We operate in 9 countries in the region with varied difficulties.
Besides regulations, we have weather that is seen as challenging due to the heat of the summer. It is true that during the hot summer days drone operations are affected and we do have reduced output, but we still get to fly all year round. Lack of a rainy or snowy season allows us to have more flying days per year than any other market around the world, leading to more turnover.
What are your current challenges and what is planned for 2020?
We have learned to navigate and work with the regulators and managed to get enough business to maintain profitability while growing, so our current challenges are managing growth and finding the right talent. We are at an exciting stage here at FEDS and the big goal going forward is more expansion in the region, having local offices in at least two new markets.
The third dimension, our orbit and beyond, holds our greatest, still unused potential. As bold pioneers, we are aiming to tap into this potential, at the same time ensuring low risks being backed by two decades of academic groundwork, by useful insights from the past and by federal and European funding of the future.