As of today, 3,087 business entities have permission to operate drones commercially in the U.S.

These companies are pioneering an entire industry—and the stakes are high. Those that make smart decisions now are poised to rise to the top as businesses begin to compete against each other for customers and market shares.

The companies that invest in compliant, scalable, efficient drone operations will have a competitive advantage and reduce the risk of expensive mistakes.

Modern Drone Infrastructure for Modern Technology

Antique paper ledger illustrates need for commercial drone software
Modern businesses don’t waste time on outdated systems Photo: Edinburgh City of Print

Look at it this way: It would be truly surprising if your controller or accountant managed your company’s financial accounts with a paper ledger, a pencil, and an old-fashioned calculator. It would take too long, there’s too much room for error, and there’s no way to share it in real time with remote employees or managers.

It would also raise the eyebrows of auditors, who might wonder what you’re trying to hide.

Instead, modern businesses use transparent accounting systems to automate tasks, track performance, share records, and report back to investors, shareholders, and the government.

Managing drones is no different.

So it’s surprising that many commercial drone operators are still using spreadsheets or even paper logbooks to manage pilots, plan flights, and report maintenance.

My take is that this is because the industry is still very young: Many businesses with commercial drone operations have just one drone and one pilot and just a few flights per month. But as companies hire multiple pilots and build fleets of unmanned aircraft, they will begin to feel the pain of cumbersome, archaic systems that don’t scale.

Software to Manage Your Commercial Drone Operations

A drone airspace map validated by experts is essential for commercial drone software
A drone airspace map validated by experts is essential for commercial drone software

Right now, commercial drone operators are faced with the complexity of evolving regulations and the uncertainty of any new, quickly growing industry. Drone operations software enables operators to manage the specific information and airspace data they need to meet business, insurance, and regulatory requirements.

If you’re using drones for your business (or plan to) look for these features:

  • a validated airspace map sourced from official regulatory bodies so you know where you can and can’t fly
  • flight planning and logging capabilities to efficiently meet regulations
  • a digital system of record to manage pilots, training, maintenance, battery performance, flight hours, and organize key documents like pilot licenses, regulatory approvals, proof of insurance, and operating checklists, associated with specific flight records

Best-in-class software ensures safe commercial drone operations while providing the foundation for an emerging global drone network. It gives business leaders the intelligence and processes to do business across the world, and it gives regulators and insurers the quality assurance and metrics they require.

Smart businesses that are in it for the long term will invest in smart drone operations at the outset.

4 Reasons Your Business Needs Drone Software

1. Meet regulatory requirements
For every pilot, safety is number one. The first part of flying drones safely is knowing where it’s safe to fly, right now—not last week, not two months ago. Our airspace map allows you to do that regardless of the current regulatory rules.

Laws are quickly changing, but, as of now, the FAA requires commercial drone operators to regularly file two reports:

  • Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) must be filed not more than 72 hours in advance, but no less than 24 hours prior to the operation
  • Certificate of Authorization (COA) report with the FAA every month, reporting your number of flights (even if zero), pilot duty time, equipment malfunctions, or any deviation from your 333 authorization

Without an efficient system in place, following these regulations will become a major task as you add more drones, pilots, and flights to your workflow.

The best commercial drone software, such as ours, stores all the information you need to file COAs and NOTAMs and makes compliance part of your everyday workflow. Our clients tell us that it’s a load off their shoulders to know that they are running a compliant operation, including preflight planning and maintenance reporting.

For optimal efficiency, Skyward files NOTAM and COA reports on behalf of our Professional Plus clients.

2. Scale your business

Image of a man next to a skyscraper illustrates how commercial drone software helps you scale your operations

Whether you’re starting a business from scratch, or using drones to expand your current operation, you want to build your business efficiently. If you’re adding drone ops to a corporate ecosystem, you want to prove to your executive and legal teams that the program complies with the law and isn’t exposing the company to undue risk.

While many drones come with flight recording systems, if you have multiple drones and pilots operating on different systems, your information will be fragmented at best—and there are no pre-flight planning capabilities. And, because the drone industry is so new, keeping up with evolving regulations will be a continuous undertaking for companies that try to operate without software that provides automated compliance as a function of workflow, even as the rules change.

These are major hurdles for building a business.

Skyward puts all of your operational data in one place and creates a system of record that scales with you as you grow. It ensures that you’ll stay up to date with changing regulations.

In addition to operating efficiently, potential investors and customers want assurance that you have a scalable system in place. They’ll want evidence that you can easily add pilots and regions of operation without major organizational impact.

3. Operate intelligently and professionally
Not every company that uses drones is run by an aviation expert. Software is all about bridging the knowledge gap between aviators and executives and empowering everyone to make well-informed decisions.

If you’re a pilot, software gives you trustworthy, validated information to plan your flights and an efficient system to log them. If you’re a manager or business leader, software should give you the tools to organize your operations and manage and store records on maintenance, flight hours, regulatory approvals, and proof of insurance.

At Skyward, we’ve focused on creating a user experience that makes sense to aviators and non-aviators alike. Drone pilots may understand all the rules, but it’s essential that executives, investors, and legal teams are able to verify processes.

4. Lower your risks
Every business that uses drones is required to have an insurance policy. Insurers want to know that you have safety procedures in place, and they also want proof of maintenance. Software that captures this data makes obtaining insurance efficient, straightforward, and, in some cases, less expensive. For example, Transport Risk Management gives Skyward customers preferred pricing on insurance premiums.

If you run a business, you know that training, good operating procedures, and expertise are essential for creating good habits and reducing risk. So adopting infrastructure early on will help you build a solid, professional foundation.

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*Cover photo by ConservationDrones.org