Around the U.S., so many companies are putting drones to work that big businesses without drones might start to feel like they need to catch up. Launching a drone program is no small undertaking, especially with drone tech and regulations evolving very quickly. So we wanted to explain what it takes for an enterprise to start a drone program from the ground up while keeping an eye on the future.
First, we put together the Skyward Guide to Starting a Drone Program. We’ve seen that corporations are investing in drones even during the coronavirus downturn. That’s because drones tend to drive down labor costs and improve worker safety.
We also discussed this topic in our webinar, Taking Flight: How to Start an Enterprise Drone Program. As a preview of the tips we shared, here are four steps for setting up successful drone operations at your company.
1) Establish stakeholders and policies before you start
Before you start flying, it’s important to lay solid groundwork for your drone program. It starts with getting buy-in from the top. You need approval from key stakeholders in your company — especially those in charge of the budget. You also want to get interest from a variety of teams throughout your company to keep your program from becoming one department’s pet project.
Once you get corporate buy-in, you’ll want to start working on robust policies, manuals, and standard operating procedures. These are the bedrock of successful drone operations, and they support regulatory compliance, safety, and quality results. You need them in place before you start flying — not after you have an incident.
Skyward can help you get started with our Take Flight package of policies and procedures. Our expert consultants can help you tailor them to your program and save you weeks or even months of work.
2) Train pilots and pick your aircraft
Once you have approval, funding, and procedures in order, you can put together your drone crew. Most startup programs don’t have full-time pilots — just regular employees who are interested in adding drones to their job. The good news is that most people can become a competent drone pilot in a matter of weeks, even without aviation experience. They just need to get certified to fly drones commercially and go through a good training course.
When choosing which aircraft to buy, be sure to choose the drone that’s right for the job. If you purchase an expensive drone with features you don’t need, you can tank your budget right away. We’ve often found that programs can start with relatively inexpensive camera drones. There’s always room to scale up later.
Skyward offers a Quick-Start package to get programs off the ground. We offer in person classroom and flight training sessions, as well as the Take Flight policies and procedures. Quick-Start also includes drone kits and accessories. It’s a one-stop shop for a startup drone program.
3) Start simple and expand from there
Drones can be used for a huge number of jobs, but trying to do everything at once can actually derail your program. Early on, you want to stay laser-focused on getting results. The best way to do that is to start with a single, solid use case.
Choose a common task that you can streamline with drones. The goal is to save time, money, safety, or a combination of these. Then you can track your data and prove the value of your program.
Once you start seeing consistent value from your drones, you can begin expanding. You can test more ambitious projects, like larger infrastructure inspections or more advanced payloads. Don’t lose sight of the goal of getting good results, but look at how drones can give you a competitive advantage.
4) Prepare your drone program for the future
The drone industry is still pretty new, but it’s developing rapidly. Between breakthrough technologies and evolving regulations, it’s an exciting field to be in. But what kind of innovations are we expecting to see in the next few years?
At Skyward, we think the near future holds:
- Flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)
- Drones connected to wireless cellular networks
- Remote deployment of fully-autonomous drones
- One pilot controlling many drones
- Universal Traffic Management (UTM)
- Package delivery
- Much more
What can you do now to prepare for this future? First, stay up to date on regulations. Capabilities like remote identification and UTM are in development today, and they’re just the latest regulatory developments in the U.S. Expect to see them rolling out in the next few years.
Also, be sure to keep an eye on new drone technology. In the past few years, drones have dramatically improved flight time, long-distance control, and collision avoidance, just to name a few. Even this year, several companies have introduced new commercial-grade drones with outstanding capabilities. If you have an established program and some spare budget, start experimenting with this new tech to see what works best.
Looking for more tips on setting up a drone program?
Read The Skyward Guide to Launching a Drone Program for more advice and a look at the Skyward solution.