Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating Skyward’s latest webinar, Drone Program Dos and Don’ts: Tips to Build, Scale, and Innovate. We talked about best practices for corporate drone programs at various stages, and some major pitfalls that can sink programs.
It was a ton of fun for me. Not only did I get to learn about some fantastic best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid from our expert panelists, but we also had one of the most interactive audiences of any Skyward webinar. We received more than 40 questions for our panelists during the live Q&A, and we got great feedback from many who attended.
I’ll quickly recap what we covered in the webinar, and then I’d like to answer a few more questions that we didn’t have a chance to cover live.
For beginning drone programs
DO: Get buy-in from executives and stakeholders
It’s critically important for fledgling drone programs to convince top-level executives that drones are worth the investment. As Mike Danielak, a private pilot and Skyward drone expert, explained, you’re going to want to start with a solid proof of concept, making sure you have a business-valuable reason for flying drones. You’ll want to make sure you have a clear path to ROI and a plan to get stakeholders from departments across your company. It will help keep your program from being siloed away into one department.
DON’T: Fail to set up a culture of safety
As a military pilot in the Indiana National Guard, panelist Bill Stafford brought a valuable perspective on major aviation practices. He explained that all aviation in the U.S. is founded on a bedrock of safety practices, including drones. Failing to set a high bar for risk management can easily land your program in hot water with your own corporate safety teams — not to mention the law.
It’s very important to implement robust training standards. For a pilot to become experienced and comfortable at the controls, they need more than just certification alone or a set number of flight hours. And it’s important to have a system of openness and accountability within your program — not so pilots can be punished for mistakes, but so that potential errors can be corrected across the whole program.
For growing and scaling programs
DO: Set up firm, scalable program standards
For the sake of safety and efficiency, drone programs must establish a strong set of standard operating procedures. These should cover everything from mission planning in the office to execution in the field — and they should include plans for contingencies, such as a crash.
On the webinar, we received a lot of questions about Skyward’s Take Flight Package, a full, customizable set of standard operating procedures including a general operating manual, checklists, waiver guides, and more. You can follow the link above to download a sample and find out more about how Skyward can help you tailor these standards to your company’s needs.
Skyward recently delivered a Take Flight package for Moss, a major national construction management company, as part of a larger consulting package. Moss’s safety team loved Take Flight’s thoroughness and customizability, which helped them get their program underway quickly. Today Moss is performing and growing quickly — check out this webinar with Skyward and Moss from just a few weeks ago to see how far they’ve come.
DON’T: Fail to make it clear who’s leading your UAS program
This may sound like a niche problem, but it happens surprisingly often: during a time of rapid growth, it can become unclear who’s in charge of drone operations. Since few pilots fly drones as their full-time job, it can be difficult to tell who has the authority to direct the program. It’s important for executives to clearly designate a program lead who manages the day-to-day affairs of the program so everyone — pilots and company personnel alike — knows who to go to with questions or concerns.
For mature drone programs
Do: Partner with drone experts to advance your program
Just about every company with drones has goals to use them for ambitious, complex operations: long distance linear inspections, LiDAR surveys, payload delivery, and more. But current regulations and safety measures often stand in the way of the most valuable use cases.
Most companies benefit from partnering with an industry expert who can help them navigate the necessary hurdles and milestones. That’s why Skyward offers a suite of professional drone consulting services. Whether you are looking to kickstart an early program or launch a complex new use case in a mature program, Skyward is here to help you achieve your goals.
Don’t: Forget to account for change management
As you explore new use cases and advanced data collection, you can’t expect your program’s processes to stay the same. Be sure your program is agile enough to accommodate unforeseen obstacles, and be sure that your data processing systems are prepared for the volume and types of data advanced drones can bring in. Ultimately, it will help you continue to achieve ROI.
Three bonus questions
Since our attendees submitted so many great questions during the webinar, I wanted to address a few top questions we didn’t have a chance to answer live.
#1: What kind of software and integrations do I need to manage my program and data?
There are so many aspects to think about in a drone program. To start with, it’s critical to have an accurate, reliable airspace map for drones — otherwise you risk operating illegally. You’ll also need a system for planning and logging flights, and you’ll want a way to coordinate personnel and ensure their flight readiness and certification. You’ll probably also want a system for assessing risk and running through checklists.
With so many moving parts, program management can seem overwhelming. That’s why Skyward puts all these tools into our Aviation Management Platform — a single, digital source for your program management needs. From checking airspace to reporting on your flights, Skyward has you covered. And with Skyward APIs, we can integrate the power of Skyward into your corporate systems.
You’ll also need software to process raw data from your drone. Which software is best for you depends on what your deliverable will be. Skyward offers partnerships or close integrations with several data processing services, including DroneDeploy. If you aren’t sure what your data processing needs are, reach out to us. We’d love to talk with you.
#2: How do I choose what drone to fly? Should I use more than one model of drone?
The drone you choose to use will, once again, depend on your operations. The majority of operations can be completed with a professional-grade camera drone like the DJI Mavic 2 Pro or Skydio 2. But for more specialized operations, you may need a drone with a heavier lifting capacity or modular capabilities. Or you may want a fixed-wing drone for longer-distance flights.
For early drone programs, we recommend sticking with one drone model. This enables easy standardization of training for new pilots and keeps processes consistent across the program. Skyward InFlight, our mobile ground control system, currently supports DJI drones for flight control and automatic log file syncing. However, we also have APIs that allow other drone manufacturers to upload their logs to the Skyward platform.
Skyward will be hosting a free online training session discussing two drone models: the DJI Inspire and the DJI Matrice 200. Join us to find out more about these two aircraft and whether they might be useful for your operations.
#3: What does Skyward offer in terms of 4G LTE and 5G connected drones? How does Verizon fit into the equation?
Skyward is a Verizon company. That means we have access to the best network in the U.S., as well as some of the world’s top minds in wireless connectivity. Today, we’re setting the standards for aviation-grade connectivity and offering testing and development services to our customers and industry partners. Tomorrow, as regulations continue to develop, Verizon and Skyward are well-positioned to be leaders in providing cellular connectivity for drones.
Skyward has some great resources on connected drones. Check out our guide, The Near Future of Connected Drones, or watch our free on-demand webinar, Looking Ahead: Drone Operations in the 5G-Connected Future.
Looking for more dos, don’ts, and program tips?
Watch the recording of the webinar and download the slides.