The best part of my job is helping companies accelerate their drone programs and achieve ROI. It’s exciting to partner with them as they achieve new gains in safety, efficiency, ROI, and new insights that drones can bring. Our customers have a diverse array of use cases for drones. But the first step to realizing ROI is the same for every company: standardized pilot training. This is especially true at larger companies where several departments or divisions are using drones for very different purposes.
As large organizations scale drone use, standardizing the drone pilot training approach becomes critical. This is true whether the actual flying work is being contracted out or is done in house. It’s not just about efficiency—though that’s important.
Commercial drone pilots need to follow a common set of operating procedures, corporate policies, and safety protocols. They need to have standards of accountability and use repeatable systems, whether they’re internal employees or pilots-for-hire. And they need to know how to train new crew members down the road.
Our customers are often surprised when I tell them that getting this standardization in place doesn’t have to slow down the expansion of their UAS program. In fact, a methodical approach to UAS pilot training can help enterprises scale faster AND keep the program within corporate risk management and legal parameters.
Here’s how we at Skyward help major corporations get new pilots ready for the specific use cases they’ll use with an intensive drone pilot training course that takes just four days.
Day 0: consultation and Part 107 coursework
We start with a consultation between our drone pilot training consultants and the company’s UAS manager to answer key questions about how the sessions should be tailored. What are the primary use cases your pilots need to be qualified to fly for? Are there goals around efficient workflows, proficiency in certain weather conditions, safety, or compliance that need to be priority topic areas?
The resulting coursework reflects the customer’s needs and how mature the company’s UAS program is. For one company, we might cover accurate data collection. For another, the focus may be on special regulations involved in a use case, or how to improve safety.
We also confirm timing so that pilot recruits have a few weeks to complete the necessary pre-work. We provide access to Drone Pilot Ground School, our partner online training portal, so they can complete their Part 107 flight certification (or equivalent country program; here’s Canada’s) before our training session. Part 107 coursework takes between 15 and 20 hours. At the end, pilots take a proctored FAA exam at an official testing center. We can also provide additional support regarding trainee questions, how to register for a test, what next steps are, and how to obtain a temporary certification card.
Our pilot training professionals also identify where we’ll conduct flight sessions. Ideally, this is at an actual site where company pilots will fly. We use the Skyward airspace map to locate nearby helipads, controlled airspace, hospitals, schools. We also check on any upcoming events—sporting contests, air shows, dignitary visits, military exercises, parades—that could affect airspace on the days of the training.
Then, we’re ready to deliver the training session. Here’s a sample agenda of how our intensive pilot training courses roll—the number of days varies by engagement.
Day 1: Drone kit, airspace, and safety basics
Drone kit basics. Before any field work, we hit the classroom for an introduction to UAS. Powering up a UAV for the first time isn’t all intuitive. One big benefit of hands-on training is that it’s much faster than learning by referring to a manual. We cover setup and disassembly and common questions: How do I unfold the arms? Where does that small ring go on the propeller? What order do parts get assembled in? How do I check the battery?
Ground control station (GCS) review. We make sure the app that flies the drone is downloaded and introduce pilots to all the features of the operating platform.
Flight safety. We cover practical vignettes covering safety for the use cases in the client’s industry and other need-to-knows: How much distance should you keep when flying near metal bridges or high-voltage power lines, where electro-magnetic interference can interfere with your signal? What if it’s a windy day?
Safety culture. We go beyond the dos-and-don’ts of following FAA rules. Our goal is to establish a culture of safety for all flight operations. A corporate drone program should foster a spirit of continual improvement and have a bias toward incident reporting. A punitive system, where mistakes are considered a black mark, encourages people to keep them secret. We also focus on preventing incidents: What if you had a bad night’s sleep and aren’t so alert? Or you get to the flight site and realize you forgot to complete your day-before checklist? Is it ever OK to talk to the person flying while the bird is in the air?
Weather briefing. Skyward’s platform includes a tool that gives a forecast on visibility and other weather factors. We also teach new pilots how they should interpret conditions on their own in high-risk areas (say, over a nuclear plant being built) or in rural places where mobile app connectivity could be in question. (This is another reason Skyward’s Take Flight resources include paper checklists.)
Theory and airspace. We cover airspace regulation compliance, including LAANC, teaching pilots how to access airspace from both the regulatory and software standpoints. This includes reviewing extra steps for more complex scenarios like flying near critical infrastructure or above construction zones.
Take Flight Standard Operating Procedures. We review all the resources in Take Flight, Skyward’s comprehensive, Quick-Start drone documentation package. It provides templates for just about everything needed to launch a commercial drone program: customizable policy manuals, flight checklists, liability insurance requirements, sample contracts for outsourcing pilots, maintenance requirements. And we also include training standards so your team knows how to train future crew members in the future.
Emergencies and incidents. A sure way to make a pilot’s early flight experience a buzzkill is to have them encounter a situation they didn’t expect. We cover common scenarios that could happen both with the aircraft and external to the aircraft before pilots fly, so nothing feels like a surprise.
Flight planning. We prepare the team for day two’s flight lessons by stepping through actual day-before flight procedures, based on the Take Flight SOPs.
Day 2 – Review and flight day
Conducting flight operations. Following review of the day one material, we go over the essentials of how to conduct a successful flight.
Preflight checks. Using the Skyward app, we step trainees through the actual prelaunch checklists.
Hands-on flight training. Following a safety review, the team practices basic maneuvers (takeoffs, flight paths, landings), following procedures and getting familiar with the flight app.
Day 3 – Review and flight day
Hands-on flight training. Following a recap of what’s been learned so far, pilots do their own kit prep, check airspace for Temporary Flight Restrictions (“would you fly today?”) and do other preflight checks, and take to the air. We reinforce concepts and practice more advanced flight maneuvers and modes (atti, tripod, photography, sport). Individual pilots receive an evaluation.
Documenting hardware health. We show pilots how to maintain records of repair in Skyward. We also review recommended hardware maintenance.
UAS program management. We cover best practices for your overall drone program by using the Skyward app.
When things go wrong. The FAA wants to know if you damage property during a flight. Your company wants to know about incidents involving liability or workers’ comp, like a bystander or pilot getting hurt. We cover the protocols for things like emergency landings, injuries when you’re in the field, who to notify, etc.
Day 4 – Review, flight day, and client choice
Customer’s choice. We dedicate this day to fulfilling the specific goals the client set forth back in the preliminary scoping or new ones that have come up during the training.
Scale your UAS program faster through standardized pilot training
Standardized pilot training helps companies maximize drone ROI and avoid risk. And it doesn’t have to be a drawn-out, painful process. We routinely take newly certified pilots from rank beginner to competent flyers who can perform aerial maneuvers and smooth high-wind landings in a few days. Our drone pilot training consultants are either general aviation or former military aviators with strong safety and FAA-compliance backgrounds. They’re accustomed to teaching new pilots who may come from very different roles in an organization—field engineers, disaster response specialists, repair techs. And Skyward can tailor the pilot training to any industry—including yours.