HomeDrone retailer to open at N.J. mall to feed growing market

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By Myles Ma 

Drones are coming to the mall. Expert Drones, a Washington, D.C. retailer of drones, plans to open a store in early 2016 at Westfield Garden State Plaza.Drones can be found at department stores, chains like Brookstone and online, but Expert Drones claims to be the first brick-and-mortar retailer dedicated to the unmanned flying machines. The store offers a wider selection than less-focused competitors, Brett Velicovich, one of the founders of Expert Drones, said.

“We’re authorized dealers of a bunch of different high-end manufacturers,” Velicovich said.

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Drone gridlock over Jersey, as FAA seeks registration. An analysis of FAA data shows New Jersey is among the top 10 states reporting improperly flown drones, or unsafe close encounters with other aircraft.Expert Drones’ inventory ranges from micro-drones with cameras the size of 50-cent coins that cost as little as $40, to mid-range best-sellers like the DJI Phantom 3 Professional, going for about $1,000, to higher-end models with advanced cameras that can cost as much as $4,000.

Aside from sales, Expert Drones customers can also service their drones at the stores and sign up for training classes.”People can pay to get an expert to come out and show them every function of the drone,” Velicovich said.Sales of consumer drones were expected to reach 400,000 units in 2015, according to research from the Consumer Electronics Association. The revenue from drone sales is expected to exceed $1 billion in five years.

“People are using them for everything,” Velicovich said. “If you can think of an industry that exists, there’s a reason to use a drone for it.”The real estate industry uses drones to showcase properties from the air; surveyors, photographers and farmers also employ them, according to an industry study obtained by USA Today. A farmer once called Expert Drones asking how to track wild pigs on his property, Velicovich said.

“There’s definitely a lot more uses than simply just flying around your house,” he said.”If you can think of an industry that exists, there’s a reason to use a drone for it.”

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The Garden State Plaza location will be the fourth mall store for Expert Drones. The company also has locations at Tyson’s Corner Mall in McClean, Va., Fashion Square Mall in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Houston Galleria Mall.”We only go into high-end malls because we’re working with high-end customers,” Velicovich said.

Velicovich expects to open in February or March.The store is opening just as the Federal Aviation Administration is looking to impose new rules regulating drones, including a requirement that all unmanned aircraft be registered. Steve Cohen, president of the 20,000-member Drone User Group, many manufacturers are including built-in limitations to anticipate those rules. For example, some drones have pre-loaded maps that keep them from flying near airports or prisons.

“These manufacturers are in the midst of trying to be conscious of existing law and conscious of what may be coming,” he said.Drone User Group and another organization, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, encourage their members to follow a set of guidelines for safe flying compiled by the FAA. Cohen encourages retailers to include the “Know Before You Fly” guideline with receipts. He plans to reach out to Expert Drones to do the some.

Many people don’t realize that any commercial use for drones has to be approved by the FAA, and that anyone flying a drone for commercial use has to be a licensed pilot. The new FAA rules will likely include a separate license for drones, Cohen said.In the meantime, Cohen, who also teaches at the Bergen County Technical School District and Bergen Community College, is helping develop a drone training program at the Paramus campus of Bergen Community.