Interview with Ian Kiely founder and organizer of Drone Expo Ireland

We sat down with Ian Kiely, founder and organizer of Drone Expo Ireland and asked him about his upcoming event, the first of its kind to come to Ireland.


Drone Expo Ireland is coming to Dublin on 1st-3rd of April 2016 for its first edition.

It’s the first Irish national event dedicated to both the professional space and the general public interested in drone technologies, applications, and services.

And it will be one of the two main commercial drone events happening in Ireland in 2016 (the other, Drone Data X Conference, is a great B2B drone event which takes place in Co.Mayo every November since 2014).

Despite its size, Ireland is punching above its weight once again when it comes to forging a path through regulation and innovation in the marketplace.

Further planning and regulatory openness could potentially allow Ireland to become a hub for development of commercial drone applications.

There have been talks about this since 2014, when the Independent published a special on the reasons why Ireland could be at the heart of the drone revolution, and just a couple of days ago the Irish Times wrote about the possibility for Co.Mayo to market as a leading test base for companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, all of whom have a clear interest in drone technology.

We welcome Ian’s efforts and are delighted to interview him about his promising event which, we hope, will help boost Ireland’s progress toward a prominent role in the global game of drones.

Ian, what is your background and how did you become a licensed drone operator?

Originally I was a hotel manager and more recently I owned and operated a number of catering outlets. Due to a serious injury, I was forced to re-educate myself. I studied project management but decided it was not for me. My business partner, Ian Mac Mahon, had switched from hiring helicopters to using drones in his work and this sparked my interest, so I wrote a business plan, applied for a grant and started the process of becoming a drone pilot.

When and how did you come up with the idea for a Drone Expo in Ireland?

I attended the Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland inaugural event at Westin Airport August 2015. It had been hastily put together but there was a good turnout, particularly from state agencies and the press. Not long after the media broadcast, lots of enthusiasts began showing up. I thought there is no platform for professionals to meet or exchange knowledge and nowhere for the general public to have access to this type of technology.

What is the mission statement of the event? Is it more B2B or consumer oriented?

Primarily we want to educate people on the safe use of RPAS and build trust in this emerging industry. All of our prices for promotional stands and tickets are very reasonable to allow start-up businesses and families access to what we are doing.

Friday 1st April is directed towards B2B services. To that end, we have a number of market leaders presenting on various topics and a selection of new technologies on show, so we would like to attract potential end users and develop a broader customer base.

Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd will be open to the general public. You can sign up for basic free ground school training, attend the indoor FPV racing or try out the flying simulators. Presentations will be running throughout the weekend, and are included in the ticket price. They will be focused on how to get the most from your drone and will cover broadly, rules and regulations and safe flying practices.

We want to educate people on safe use of #RPAS & build trust in this emerging industry, says Ian KielyClick To Tweet

Organizing such an event takes a lot of effort, how big is your team?

Our team started quite small and has grown steadily. Initially, it was my partners Ian Mac Mahon and Peter Downey working part-time, with myself working full-time. We came across a smart young man, Will Conroy, who has been managing our social media since before Christmas and more recently we have created two more part-time roles. We have also had great support from friends and a number of people within the industry.

What are you enjoying most about organizing this event?

I have met some great people, extended my network and had the opportunity to interact with fantastic technologies. Having spent a year recuperating from surgeries I feel invigorated to be out and about creating something new.

What are the main challenges and obstacles you’ve had to overcome to get this event off the ground?

Finance is usually the biggest obstacle to overcome with any start-up organization. We have been working with a very tight budget that has eased a little with each new client we have attracted.

Marketing is also a big challenge with a limited budget. We have been very active on social media and more recently we are appearing in publications and newsletters that are mostly industry orientated. We are delighted to announce that we have agreed a partnership deal with Dublin’s FM104 and will roll out a campaign starting on March 18th. We are very excited to be giving away some great prizes including a Typhoon G, courtesy of Yuneec, and a place in ground school training with iFly Technology, in addition to plenty of free family passes, so don’t forget to tune in.

Win great prizes at @IrishDroneExpo offered by @YuneecAviation, @iFlyTechnology & moreClick To Tweet

Have you attended any other commercial or consumer drone events in Ireland or abroad? What did you learn from them?

There was quite a lot of drone content at Web Summit, which I found very educational from an end-user perspective. That same week I attended Data Drones X in Westport hosted by Philip McNamara, a well-run conference with an excellent lineup. It was good to see what the big companies are developing and how they are dealing with problems and approaching restrictions posed by legislation. My partners attended The Commercial Drone Show and The UK Drone Show for further inspiration.

Is there anything that will make the Drone Expo Ireland event special and/or different from other drone events?

We have tried to build an event that has something for everyone. It is inexpensive to attend compared to other events. Professionals will find what they need to develop their business, and potential new users will be guided by experts in what direction to take. The general public will also be able to interact with drones in a safe environment without the commitment of having to spend big money on a rig.

What type of audience and what attendance do you expect?

This is always a tricky question. When something has not been done before it is very hard to gauge how many will show up. I would be happy to have 400+ attendees each day and everything after that is a bonus. We are capable of hosting many more, but we will just have to wait and see.

On day one we expect industry and end-users extending to a wider variety over the weekend. So far, the most interest is coming from males aged between 14 and 50. There are very few female pilots and industry leaders. We would welcome a change in this but would encourage anyone with an interest to attend.

What benefits do you see for drone flyers attending Drone Expo Ireland in April?

It will be a great opportunity to network. Having made contact with many people this seems to be the most sought after commodity. The Irish Aviation Authority will be presenting on topics concerning safety and legislation. As individual flyers, it can be hard to have face time with the people shaping the rules. We are offering this platform to address that.

What other features will you have at the RDS?

Dublin Fire Service will be in attendance on the 1st with aerial equipment and information on how they are better equipped to save lives. Samsung is promising great entertainment with their new S7 handset and VR goggles, FM104 will be stopping by with the Beetle Bugs and CopterShop Ireland will have the latest DJI offerings.

What is your formula for mixing presentations, exhibitions, demos, networking and drone races in your event?

We will have several elements running at any given time; talks throughout day one and from 11am-2pm over the weekend. FPV racing midday until the evening with a break for basic pilot training; the outside band lawn will see demonstrations of much larger equipment at intervals from 10 am.

What industry experts and main sponsors did you get on board and how hard was it?

We are currently exploring sponsorship deals with two large entities. We were under the illusion for some time that this had been sorted, but we ended up back at the drawing board!

Finding industry experts to support our event was a little easier than anticipated; I would know a lot of them personally or, at least, know where to find their telephone number or email. If we were to start this process two years from now I think it would be a lot more difficult.

We will be publishing a full list of speakers this week on our website but you can expect to hear from David Moloney (Movidius), John Wright (UAAI), Ralph James (IAA), Steven Flynn (Skytango), Kate Harnette (William Fry Solicitors) and Scott Stevenson (Extreme Fliers) to name a few.

Did you get any government support for the event or has all support come from the private sector?

The IAA have been helpful in getting us started and the RDS have been very generous in many ways, however, we have funded practically everything ourselves. I have met with or spoken to many agencies, and most gave good advice but none were willing to commit funds. We don’t seem to “tick the right boxes” and yet we are enabling many start-ups, giving free space to educational facilities, several foreign companies are travelling here and staying in hotels and on top of that we are creating jobs. I’m not sure what else we can do to garner state support!

I see FPV Drone Racing is on the schedule, do you think people will be excited to attend this part of your event?

There seems to be some excitement among the racers themselves and their numbers are growing steadily. It has occurred to me that exposure at our event may help bolster their membership but I suspect that the world championships, won by a 15 year-old recently, might do a better job than us especially with such attractive prize money. We will have the Irish champion in attendance for the weekend and several others who are extremely knowledgeable and competitive.

What do you think of the Irish drone industry and regulations? What is the potential for growth of the industry in Ireland?

The industry here is still in its infancy with a need for cross-platform support and communication. Regulating UAV technology is a very difficult task. Everyone wants to have their say and still be allowed to do what they want. If not managed correctly drones pose serious safety issues.

Ireland is a key stakeholder in the global aviation industry; many would say that the IAA is in a tight position and that other countries are waiting to see our response to emerging problems. I believe there will have to be a number of attempts to shape the legislation before we get it right. Personally, I would like to see more controls in place and a crack down on those abusing the technology.


Thanks Ian for this great interview, and good luck with Drone Expo Ireland!

You can buy tickets for Drone Expo Ireland from Eventbrite or visit droneexpoireland.com. Admission prices:

Fri 1st April:

  • €20 access all areas

Sat 2nd & Sun 3rd April:

  • Individual  € 15
  • Family  4  € 35
  • OAP, Student, U12  € 8

If you would like to get involved please contact Ian Kiely 00353879824031 or droneexpoireland@gmail.com.

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