Companies early in the process of creating a drone program have a lot of questions. Are drones really adding business value? What does it take to grow a drone program? How can I set a program up for future success?
As a Customer Success Manager at Skyward, I get to work with customers at a lot of different stages in their drone ops. Some of my clients are experimenting with just a few drones to see if they’re worth the time and money. Other clients run programs with huge fleets of drones and hundreds of pilots.
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up from helping customers set up successful drone operations.
1. Prove out your drone program’s use cases
Early in your drone program, you need to establish good use cases. You’ll have to be clear about the benefits. Do they save time or money? Do they reduce risk? How do they help the business? If you can’t prove your drones are delivering value, you risk losing stakeholders and having your program shut down.
A good place to start is to identify use cases that directly align with company objectives. Your drone may capture great aerial photos, but if you work for a telecommunications company, that footage may not offer much business value. Instead, look for a good use case that improves upon processes and systems that you already have in place.
These use cases totally vary based on your industry. For example, construction and engineering companies might use drones for photogrammetry and orthomosaics. Agriculture might benefit from site scans and topographical analysis. For news media, drones might get you a shot that’s just out of reach.
If you’re aligning your use cases with tasks you know are going to be a part of your job, you know you’re going to get more buy-in from the stakeholders and executives who are enabling these flight operations.
2. Calculate cost and use it as rationale to scale your drone program
All use cases come with costs. First, there’s the cost of drone hardware and equipment. Then, you’ll need software and tools to process data and build models after the fact. But a good use case will have benefits that far outweigh the costs of drone operations.
In order to scale your drone program, you need to be able to prove to your executives that drones are worth the financial investment. Usually, they’ll want to see dollar savings.
When drones can replace helicopters, cost savings can be in the thousands of dollars per day. Companies like Gray Television are replacing helicopters with drones for day-to-day news operations. And energy, utility, and telecommunication companies are using drones to inspect huge towers and transmission lines without sending up a helicopter.
Drones can also reduce the need for bucket trucks. A bucket truck requires a crew of at least two, plus an enormous piece of hardware. It gets expensive really fast — not only in terms of man hours and equipment, but there’s also an inherent safety expense as well. Bucket trucks lift personnel high above the ground and expose them to hazardous conditions.
When you can send up a drone for utility pole inspections, the inherent costs for labor and hardware drop. If you can eliminate a single bucket truck out of your fleet, you’re talking $80,000–$100,000 savings for the cost of one drone. And that’s beside the harder-to-calculate costs of safety.
3. Document, document, document
Make sure you’re keeping track of your flight operations. The only way to let your executives know whether their investment is resulting in a return is to document every part of your program. You should record your missions, track your safety, and know where, how, and when you’re flying.
The best way to do this is through an aviation management platform like Skyward. Skyward offers management services that enables drone pilots and managers to:
- Check airspace and get access to controlled areas
- Plan, fly, and log missions
- Track all the drones, batteries, and personnel in your fleet
- View historical data for every flight logged
- Record all this information in a digital system for easy reporting
The more your program scales, the more line of sight you’re going to need to have into what everybody in your program is doing — especially in organizations that are nationwide or international. Having a robust system for documenting and reporting on your drone operation is key for growing a drone program.
4. Use documentation to sophisticate your drone operations
Documentation is also key for setting up advanced use cases. The more you know about how and where you’re flying, the more you can push the boundaries of what’s possible. Once you’ve proved that drones are saving you money and that your crews are doing it safely, you can begin experimenting with sophisticated drone operations.
Here are a few examples:
- Southern Company is using drones to pull rope for power lines between transmission towers to reduce downtimes.
- SkySkopes is working with a state agency to conduct flights over people using a waiver from the FAA.
- Verizon and others are experimenting with beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights, including flights over cellular connectivity.
- Other drone operators have obtained authorization for night flights and controlled airspace access.
Operations like these usually require a Part 107 waiver from the FAA. To receive a waiver, you need to prove that you can maintain safety in advanced operations. This is much easier if you have data from your entire drone program available at your fingertips.
Skyward can also help you apply for a Part 107 waiver for advanced operations. Our Professional Services team would love to talk to you about how we can help you achieve your goals.
How Skyward helps
Skyward has helped dozens of companies stand up successful drone programs. And we’ve helped huge programs scale up while maintaining safety and regulatory compliance. Check out a demo of Skyward and see how we can help your drone operations!