Back in July 2016, early in the days of commercial drones and a month before Part 107 came out, Skyward wrote an article featuring SkySkopes, a drone service provider based in North Dakota. Matt Dunlevy, president and CEO of SkySkopes, shared about his business model: hiring high-quality pilots, holding to professional standards, and providing value to customers.
Three and a half years later, the drone industry has changed enormously. Part 107 opened the door to more drone operations, LAANC allowed access to controlled airspace, and dozens of drone service providers exploded in popularity — then flamed out and disappeared.
But SkySkopes is still as strong as ever. They provide services to companies in the energy, utilities, transportation, and oil & gas industries. And Frost and Sullivan recently named SkySkopes a top five drone service provider in the world for their innovation, growth, and advanced use cases.
Skyward and SkySkopes are still working together today. I recently had the chance to speak with Matt Dunlevy about how SkySkopes has kept finding success when so many others didn’t. Ultimately, he explained, SkySkopes has done it by staying true to the same business model as in 2016.
1) Hire qualified, experienced pilots
Matt explained that one of SkySkopes’s greatest strengths is their pilots. SkySkopes has a steady supply of UAS pilots in their backyard at the University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. Matt noted that UND offered the first baccalaureate program in the nation for unmanned aircraft systems operations, and he thinks their program may be the best.
SkySkopes relies on its pilots to perform safe, professional work in the field. So SkySkopes has also branched out to recruit other drone pilots, especially veteran military UAS pilots. With knowledge on a wide variety of airframes, their expertise is valuable.
“The knowledge that they gained with their training and experience in the military transfers very well into the commercial side,” Matt said. “There’s a similar tempo and a similar set of values — our core values being Safety, Effectiveness, and Ethics.”
2) Establish strong, safe aviation standards
Early on, SkySkopes realized safety was crucial to success. They needed to establish standard operating procedures that went beyond the letter of the law to avoid potential incidents.
“Safety is part of our aviation culture,” Matt said. “In an industry full of uncertainty when it comes to safety standards, we pile on certifications and have a ravenous commitment to continued education in the world of safety. I think it’s even more necessary as new airframes and different technologies are coming out almost too fast for people to keep up with.”
This focus on safety sets SkySkopes above other drone contractors without a proven safety record. High program standards help SkySkopes conduct business safely and in compliance with regulations.
3) Find big use cases in big industries
Today, Matt says, SkySkopes is focused on bringing premier aerial intelligence and innovative solutions to the energy sector. Most of SkySkopes’s clients are in the oil & gas or utilities industries, where inspections are frequent and time-consuming. SkySkopes also inspects transportation infrastructure, ensuring that roads and railways stay open for business.
SkySkopes focuses on delivering value to their customers. That may mean collecting raw data for a customer, or processing and delivering the whole job under one umbrella. Some of the most common jobs SkySkopes flies are:
- 3D mapping and modeling with advanced LiDAR systems
- Electro-optical and infrared inspections
- Asset inspections, such as checking transmission and distribution structures to ensure compliance standards are being met
- Right-of-way inspections for pipelines and power lines
Matt pointed out a capital efficient approach to business is an important factor of SkySkopes’s success.
“One key component of our success is listening to the end user and executing with an exactness,” Matt said. “We’re making sure we know why they want what they’re asking for so that we know not to go too far in one direction or another. Delivering with exactness and communicating with clients is absolutely key.”
4) Use an aviation management platform like Skyward to scale
In the early days, SkySkopes used Google spreadsheets and other scattered tools to manage their drone program. It worked at first, and SkySkopes didn’t think aviation management software was worth spending money on. But as SkySkopes began to grow, they quickly realized they would need an aviation management platform to enable them to scale up. Now, SkySkopes relies on Skyward for airspace intelligence and access, program management, and industry insight.
“We use Skyward because of the accountability and situational awareness that it affords us,” Matt said. “It’s important for us to make sure we know where our crews are. If there’s a concern that needs to be flagged, I can see that it’s flagged in essentially real time.”
Beyond helping SkySkopes manage all their flights, personnel, equipment, airspace access, and aircraft, Skyward has enabled SkySkopes to grow. Skyward allows managers to oversee operations at a high level or dig into the details. And as SkySkopes has expanded, Skyward has allowed SkySkopes to manage operations reliably.
“The platform-agnostic fashion of Skyward is extremely beneficial,” Matt said. “Being able to just reach into your pocket, to see what you need to see and schedule what you need to schedule with your teams is an indispensable feature. There just isn’t a way to scale without something like Skyward.”
Finally, SkySkopes relies on Skyward to stay up to speed with regulatory developments and maintain a compliant drone program. Matt values Skyward’s involvement in the FAA’s regulatory process.
“In an industry where it’s difficult to find industry standards, Skyward is the industry standard,” Matt said. “I have all confidence that Skyward is going to play a key part in beyond visual line of sight initiatives, and it can be done with that much more efficiency if Skyward is in the mix.”
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