It’s the job of risk managers and compliance personnel to assess and mitigate potential risks in their companies’ operations. They naturally have questions about new drone programs, or those that are expanding to more business units. They may have concerns about the potential for airspace violations, data breaches, or how a growing fleet of aircraft will be kept airworthy.
There’s good news: Drones may improve net risk for many organizations. While drones do bring some risks of their own, they are capable of reducing serious risks to personnel in a variety of industries. By following essential risk mitigation practices, companies using drones can actually lower overall risk, making drones a safety asset.
Here are some pointers to help you run a low-risk drone program at your enterprise.
Define the risks — and benefits — of a drone program
The risks presented and solved by drones vary greatly across industries and uses. A good place to start in defining how they apply to your company is Deloitte’s framework for auditing the risks of disruptive technologies. This framework organized tech adoption risks into five categories.
Companies use drones because they get work done safer, faster, and cheaper. Hazardous assets like cooling towers can be examined from the ground, often with zero downtime — a huge productivity gain. Inspections on capital equipment and infrastructure can often be done in hours, not the weeks required for legacy methods.
To safely take this step, risk officers need to account for certified pilots, equipment, and flight planning. Corporate liability policies may need a fresh review. And extra management, tech support, and communications time may be required to run things smoothly.
A 2018 industry report from Skyward and third-party firm Blue Research found that 88% of companies with $50M or more in revenue realized positive return on investment in drones in one year or less. 92% reported that benefits were greater than costs in their drone program.
Consider the total cost of ownership (TCO) as a metric for gauging the financial pros and cons of a drone program. TCO for a commercial drone program includes initial investments such as hardware, administrative setup, and initial pilot training, as well as ongoing costs such as software, support, and maintaining a top-notch fleet and crew.
On the value side of the equation, drones can measurably reduce costs and improve safety for your workforce. Reduced need to put a crew in an aircraft or have a worker climb a tower means fewer injuries and workers’ comp claims — and potentially lower liability insurance premiums.
Another financial factor to consider is competitive parity. Many companies are tapping into the game-changing insights and efficiencies drones bring. Inexpensive aerial mapping of building sites, for example, provides better data in less time in construction design and management. Falling behind on the latest technologies and best practices in your industry can be costly.
In 2018, big companies cited staying up to date on laws and regulations as the top challenge to using drones. The drone industry is evolving rapidly, with past innovations like LAANC opening the door to wider drone operations and upcoming systems like Remote ID laying the groundwork for the future’s airspace management systems. When accounting for risk, be sure to include the difficulties of a rapidly evolving industry — and the benefits of early adoption.
At Skyward, we want to make it as easy as possible for drone operators to follow regulations, even for those without an aviation background. Skyward’s airspace intelligence map gives pilots key information on where and when they can fly. Program managers can review pilot credentials and request airspace access, and compliance personnel can be confident that Skyward is a partner with deep industry knowledge and expertise. In fact, we advocate at the highest levels for beneficial drone policies that help move the industry forward.
Drones are part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution built on robotics, artificial intelligence, 5G connectivity, and data. Taking advantage of these opportunities, companies can now use predictive analytics to keep equipment better maintained, reducing downtime. Image inspections are being automated with AI, so processes like assessing solar power generation sites are far faster. Data visualizations — 3D models from point clouds, thermal maps, photomosaics, and volumetric analyses — are resulting in new insights that weren’t feasible before. Failing to embrace these changes leaves a company at risk of falling behind.
Drones are still a relatively new technology, and the onboard systems and sensors vary greatly between models. With drone technology so heavily reliant on wireless transmission of information, there are some risks of signals being intercepted. For companies operating drones in secure locations, drone data and cybersecurity practices should be top of mind.
Be prepared with a plan to mitigate risks of data theft or information leaks. You’ll want to account for the data’s security in the collection, transmission, and storage phases. Companies will also need to use reliable ground control stations and flight apps for secure control of aircraft.
Another technological factor to consider is cellular-connected drones. Skyward and Verizon are researching and developing technologies to connect drones to wireless networks, opening the industry to long-distance operations and highly valuable use cases.
Be systematic about risk reduction
After defining the risks and benefits of drones for your company, the next step is to standardize your operations. Strong, standardized protocols are one reason the aviation industry has an outstanding safety record. Some of the most important policies and documents to have include:
- Qualification standards for all pilots
- Accountability and consistency in crew training
- Equipment procurement and maintenance rules
- Quality control procedures for data collection
- Pre-planned responses to accidents and incidents
- Risk mitigations for operations that require waivers, such as beyond-visual-line-of-sight or flights over people
- Regulatory and internal compliance requirements
- Risk assessment methodology
You don’t have to figure out all of this on your own. Skyward offers Take Flight, which provides comprehensive standard operating procedures, training protocols, and documentation standards, and instructions for corporate drone programs. And Skyward’s professional services team can help you put safety, risk reduction, and compliance at the heart of your drone program.
Turning drones into a net risk asset
Safety is a big deal, and using drones to reduce risk can save lives on job sites. That’s why Skyward supports corporate drone programs at any stage, helping them stand up, manage, and scale drone fleets. Want to learn more about how you can reduce risk with drones for your company? Let us know.