Drone Diva Desi to address the Drones Conference

The 2021 edition of the Drones and Unmanned Aviation Conference – set for June 24 and 25 in Johannesburg, South Africa – is pulling out all the stops to ensure that Africa stays on the right path with regards to consolidating the ground gained in this year of the drone.

Having roped in the invaluable humanitarian delivery drone experience of Wingcopter, the conference has scored another first with Desiree Ekstein, a USA-based drone safety and regulation instructor who has been in the trenches of the drone industry since day one.

Popularly known in the industry as Drone Diva Desi, Mrs Ekstein is so crazy about drones that she gives them pet names.

Fanny is the name of one of the first drone she owned.

Fanny is a DJI Phantom Vision 2, and it was the videos she shot that set Desi on a career, as they were so popular with her family and friends that she decided to make a living out of drones. Her passionate obsession has since become a thriving business, after Desi opened On the Go Video, which provides aerial photography, 3D modelling and virtual tour services for various industries that include construction, mining, real estate and scientific research.

Desi has been flying drones since way back in 2012 when most of us had no idea they existed, having inherited the flying gene from her late father, a pilot who owned several small planes. She is one of the first women to obtain an FAA Certified 107 Remote Pilot certificate in the USA, and a member of the FAA Wings program; is a graduate of the Gold Seal UAV Ground School, a Lead FAASTeam Representative Drone Pro in San Diego, an AUVSI San Diego Board member, and a AUVSI TOP Level 3 pilot.

She is also an UAS Operations instructor at TCI MiraCosta College and has a night endorsement. Desi is involved with several STEM and STEAM outreach programs such as, the Elementary Science Institute “Girls Take Flight” program for young women, and is an advisor to Women and Drones.

All the years living with a drone have hardened Desi to all the facial expressions of people from the time they see, hear or read about a drone for the first time and decide it is a toy or a dangerous spy hardware at first side, to the time they overcome their prejudice and actually appreciate all the cool things a drone can do.

This year’s Drones Conference promises fireworks

All that has come through years of dedication and persistence.

“I didn’t give up,” Desi chuckled during an interview last year, when asked what the secret to her success was. “I have just kept going and going; building and networking. I think I have also seen so much advancement in the past year. People are beginning to realise the value of drone. In the beginning it was hard to get over that perception of what drones actually do; and you occasionally you still that encounter with a person who looks at your drone and says wow; that’s a cool toy!

“And you are like, it’s kind of pretty expensive to be just a toy, but ok! But I think on the whole, that perception is changing, and because of that, the industry is really opening up.”

It is surprising how many people get that drone and do not know the rules and regulations. She is still surprised by the number of people who are willing to push the limits of the law and fly their drones beyond the visual line of sight and above the legal flight height of 400 feet. Obviously, Desi understands the thin ground drone technology stands on with regards to its current relations with aviation authorities the world over, which is why she approaches people when she encounters them using drones, to enquire whether they are familiar with the rules of engagement wherever they will be flying.

But that is on a small, daily scale; the drone diva has also taken teaching drone technology novices about issues of safety and regulation – and we could not think of a better person to speak about safety and regulations.

“Desi lives in the USA, the biggest drone market in the world,” said Jerry Davison one of the organisers of the Drones Conference. “You could say she has front row seats to all the latest trends and developments in the drone industry, and has played her part over the years, sharing her experiences of safety and the regulatory framework with other drone industry players in North America. We believe there is no better time than now for her to share what she has learned over the years with stakeholders over here, as the drone industry in Africa is on the watershed of ballooning into a whole economy that sustains itself – provided the playing field has the right rules that allow safe operations.

“Desi has seen it all, and she will help us figure out what we need to do to get where we need to go.”

Of her passions, the drone diva herself says; “My goal is to reach and teach. In doing so, I have written many blogs regarding safety and I have worked with a company called She Drones in STEM/STEAM education. I have started reaching out to people to teach them how to use their drones safely. Flying safely and being able to educate others about safety is very important to me.

“I know that drones are the future and I am excited to be a big part of the beginning of the next generation.  I’m proud to be able to share my knowledge and show people how to have fun and be safe”

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