In Skyward’s shortest and fastest webinar, two of our drone experts gave 30 pro tips for drone programs early in the process of launching drone operations.
Watch the recording and read the transcript below. You can also click here to download the presentation slides.
Rebecca Wilson 0:00
Welcome everyone! Thanks for joining today’s webinar of pro tips for companies in the early stages of drone adoption. I’m Rebecca Wilson, Head of Content at Skyward. Usually you’ll find me on the chat in our webinars, but today I’m stepping into the driver’s seat for our shortest webinar ever.
Joining me here at Skyward HQ is Mike Morris, Manager of Customer Success. In just 30 minutes, we’re going to go through 30 tips and tricks for those of you who are just beginning to use drones at your company. There probably won’t be enough time to get to all of your questions, but don’t worry. We’ll follow-up with the recorded presentation and answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive in the chat and Q&A box.
Mike, tell us what you love most about working at Skyward.
Mike Morris 0:48
Hey Rebecca. Good afternoon. Skyward’s a great place to work. I work with immensely talented people and with customers who are doing really incredible things out in the field with drones every day. Plus, we’ve got a bunch of dogs to pet in the office and that’s always a benefit.
Rebecca Wilson 1:05
Yes, that is a great benefit. For me, the thing I love most is that there’s always something new: new technology, new use cases, new customers, new programs from our parent company, Verizon, and, of course, new pro tips to share in webinars.
And with that, we are off to the races. Ready to talk fast, Mike?
Mike Morris 1:24
Let’s do it.
Rebecca Wilson 1:26
All right, so in our very different jobs at Skyward, Mike and I both receive hundreds of questions per month: Mike, from his customers and me, via comments on our blog and emails in my inbox. We see a lot of the same questions and concerns across industries and use cases, especially for companies that are just starting out. So we’ve divided our pro tips across five main subject areas, which you’ll see on your screen there.
Mike Morris 1:52
We have so much information to share that we won’t be reading each and every tip that you’re seeing on the screen. Instead, we’ll highlight a few and give some in-depth examples. And yes, as always, we’re going to send you a copy of the presentation and the recording of the webinar for everybody that registered today, so that you can reference back to the information shared or pass it along to a colleague.
Rebecca Wilson 2:14
All right, so before we dive in, let’s kick things off with a couple of polls. We’re interested in knowing if you already have a drone program. Are you in the planning stages? Just getting started? Already up and running? Or ready to scale? Or maybe you’re an entrepreneur who owns a drone and you’re looking to start your own business?
All right, and next up, tell us what your biggest challenges have been. Getting buy-in? Creating standard operating procedures? Hiring qualified pilots? Achieving ROI? Or maybe just something else? And feel free to share in the chat if there are challenges or pain points you’ve experienced that we didn’t cover here.
Rebecca Wilson 3:27
Okay. All right. Well, let’s start at the beginning: gaining buy-in from your executive team.
Mike Morris 3:33
So this is an essential first step that can make or break any company’s drone program. While a boots on the ground professional or a business manager is interested in new use cases, increased efficiency, hiring pilots, and processing data, your executives may not care about any of those things until you can prove the drones won’t increase your company’s liability. Your compliance and legal teams may be most concerned about ensuring that your flight crews will never violate airspace regulations, damage infrastructure, or infringe on privacy.
Rebecca Wilson 4:08
Here are five tips that will help you prove the case for drones to your executive team. At any complex organization, there are many different stakeholders with diverse goals any time new technology is introduced, and drones are a prime example. Your legal team, your finance team, and your executives will all have different concerns. And if you can frame those as your job to address in advance, you’ll have a smoother path to success. There’s no harm in making your bosses look good and you’ll have a much easier time getting budget if you have a good relationship with your finance team.
Jumping through so many hoops can feel time-consuming, especially if you already have projects lined up, but it’s essential to build trust with all your stakeholders from the very beginning.
Mike Morris 4:53
And now for a pitfall to avoid. Be prepared to educate your executives. Drones are constantly in the news these days, so your executive team may think they already know about what’s going on with them and have an idea of the industry-specific value they could provide to your company or agency. If you’ve spent weeks or months investigating the way drones can, say, detect pipeline leaks, it’s easy to assume that this value is apparent to everyone. For many people, knowledge of drones is still limited to risks which are low, but they’re also really widely reported in the media.
Be smart about the use case that you select for your pilot program. You want something that’s simple, straightforward, and that you feel very confident will save money, make money, or both. Start by describing the business problem the drones will solve. For example, stockpile volumetrics are inaccurate or substations take months to inspect. Then show how drones can provide a viable solution. When possible, provide third-party case studies and reports from other companies, universities, or professional services firms.
Remember to include data about how drones will help increase revenue, cut costs, or both. And if you need help with any of that, you can engage with our team of experts to assist.
Rebecca Wilson 6:14
Those are great points. Let’s move on to a few things you need to keep in mind when thinking about training.
So, as I’m sure most of us here know, all pilots flying commercially under Part 107 in the United States need to pass the knowledge exam at an approved test center. But that’s really just the beginning. The goal of any training program isn’t to check a box or pass a test; it’s to foster a self-reinforcing culture of safety within the company’s drone program.
So Mike, I know you work closely with our training team. What tips have you learned from them?
Mike Morris 6:49
Yeah, for sure. If you’re using drones for business in the United States, obviously all of your pilots need to pass the FAA remote pilot certification exam, AKA Part 107. But passing the exam isn’t necessarily a sign that a pilot is highly proficient. For example, I would imagine all of you have seen this, but you can actually pass that test without ever having piloted a drone before. It’s just a good idea of what’s going on with the regulations.
So for pilots that are highly proficient, each one may have a slightly different take on how to do things. It’s important to take some time, instead of training milestones, specific to your company and your use cases. It’s incumbent on every company to ensure their pilots are following standardized procedures and that they’re not going rogue.
Rebecca Wilson 7:36
And that brings us to our next pitfall, hiring. This is something we hear a lot about. So you see a pilot has a good resume, all of the qualifications, and tons of experience. That’s a great hire. You should probably hire that person, but don’t assume that your company is off the hook. Your flight crews still need a standardized way to work together to communicate and to make sure that they’re collecting the data that is really the point of flying drones in the first place.
Skyward’s team of expert trainers are experts at classroom and flight training, as well as customizing our general operating manual and checklists for our customers. The point of all that training is to have a low risk, high reward drone program that operates at max efficiency. And that brings us to our next slide.
Mike Morris 8:25
Yeah, thanks Rebecca. The best flight processes increase efficiency, lower costs, mitigate risks, and empower your crew to do their best work. I’ve learned so many cool tips to increase on-site efficiency and some of them are pretty obvious, like verifying that you’ve collected the data that you need before you pack up for the day.
And some are kind of surprising. For example, bring your own shade. It’s so simple, but nothing can stall an operation faster than the pilot not being to see the ground control station or standing out there and baking in the sun and just overheating. Also setting up cones or markers to keep passersby away and show that you’re flying on official business could prevent multiple interruptions from curious looky-loos.
On-site efficiency is so important that we’ve included twice as many tips. Always plan your flight ops in advance. The Skyward airspace map is great for that. And always, always, always bring a backup aircraft, batteries, and memory card, especially if you’re operating at any amount of distance away from your HQ. That’s bound to save you both time and money.
Rebecca Wilson 9:34
Yep. Those are great points. So you brought up the Skyward airspace map and that brings us to one of the most common pitfalls that we find that brings companies to Skyward for the first time: that preflight intelligence both on the ground and in the air.
No matter how much experience a pilot has, they don’t have any way of knowing if a temporary flight restriction is in place or what class the airspace is without checking an airspace map. At Skyward, we’re particularly proud that ours also includes heights of over a million key structures, transmission lines, and pedestrian paths, all of which are essential. And of course, you can use it to gain fast access to control the airspace via the FAA’s LAANC program.
Mike, I think we have 10 tips to go. How are we on time?
Mike Morris 10:26
It looks like we’re doing really well. I’m feeling good about it.
Rebecca Wilson 10:29
All right, great.
Mike Morris 10:30
So, recently we were talking to a customer at a large engineering firm and he said to us, “You’re always just one mistake away from having your entire operation shut down.” That really points to the connection between operations management and safety. A well-managed operation is safe by definition and a safe operation tends to be very well-managed.
As a Verizon company, we at Skyward understand very well that every company will have different requirements for managing safety and risk. That’s why it’s so important to build a positive, ongoing relationship with your risk management team. It’s a relationship that requires trust to be constantly earned. And a great way to do this is to demonstrate how drones could actually decrease a company’s net risk. For example, by doing things like reducing the time workers spend on roofs, scaffolding, and towers.
Also keep really thorough records. You’ll show you have nothing to hide and that you’re committed to checking all the boxes. Of course, we always recommend giving any stakeholder access to the drone operations management platform you use. With Skyward, for example, they can see if pilot credentials are up to date as well as the jobs that had been flown and whether everyone stayed within Part 107 regulations during their flights.
There’s also some pitfalls associated with that. This pitfall that you’re seeing on the screen is a little tricky because I have yet to meet a pilot who isn’t committed to safety. But again, each company will have different standards and risk thresholds and every pilot may have a slightly different interpretation. So it’s important that everyone is on the same page. One way to do that in Skyward is using our customizable checklists to standardize procedures across the company.
Rebecca Wilson 12:22
All right, five tips to go. So I’m going to talk about my favorite part, which is future proofing.
At the beginning of the presentation, I mentioned that one of my favorite things about working at Skyward is all of the really awesome new technology that we get to experiment with. And we also get to help our customers test cutting edge use cases through our aviation development centers. With drones and sensors, there are new developments all the time and in order to maintain a competitive advantage, you’ll want to have a plan to adopt and make use of all of that new tech, which, of course, is easier than it sounds.
So probably the most important tip for new tech is: have a defined business case before adopting it. At Skyward, we talk a lot about connecting drones to the Verizon network in order to enable artificial intelligence, beyond visual line of sight flights, and autonomous flights. But not every company may have a need for each of those things. They are very cool, but be sure that you’re going to use them before you go to all of that effort and cost of adopting.
Also, with all the new data we’re collecting, we need to have a way to securely store it and retrieve it. Otherwise there’s no point in having it.
Mike Morris 13:43
Yeah. Those are really excellent points, Rebecca.
As your operation scales up, you’ll find it increasingly important to have an easy-to-use system, like Skyward, to manage the details of your drone program, especially once you start coordinating multiple jobs in separate locations with different flight crews and managers. That stuff can become really confusing very quickly. You’ll want to know that every crew was following the same processes, that aircraft are being maintained to the same sets of standards, and that everyone is following internal procedures, as well as airspace rules.
Using a drone management platform like Skyward that includes airspace intelligence can help ensure that standardized procedures are being followed, provide an audit trail to evaluate pilot safety, provide efficient access to airspace, and serve as a digital system of record.
Rebecca Wilson 14:36
So I know that most of you joining us today are just starting out. So you may be more concerned with today’s technology and just getting up in the air, but this is something that applies to you too. One of the most common pitfalls we see with new programs is they invest in a fleet of aircraft before they really know their initial use cases. So drones are neat and it’s easy to see how this pitfall can happen because they’re so easy to buy and it can feel like a really, a good first win, a good first step. You can just go buy a bunch of drones and they’re there. But if your primary use case is horizontal infrastructure inspections, you may find that a fixed wing drone is more useful than a quadcopter.
Regardless, before you invest, our consultants at Skyward can help you understand your most valuable use cases and provision the correct drones and accessories.
Mike Morris 15:37
So one more thing on that as well. It’s sometimes worth proving out what you’re going to be doing and your initial use cases before selecting, even down to the specific airframes that you want to fly. We always try to give advice to use kind of the lowest common denominator when it comes to aircraft. So fly the smallest, safest thing that you can to get the job done. You may not need a big heavy lift drone to do something like a vertical infrastructure inspection. So make sure that before you invest in those ways, you’ve gone about recognizing exactly what tools it’s going to take to do your job in the field.
Rebecca Wilson 16:15
That’s a great point. Mike, I think we did it! We got through all of our pro tips and that means that I think you get a few minutes to talk about Skyward.
Mike Morris 16:28
You and I both know that talking about Skyward is one of my favorite things to do. I have to do it literally every day, so it should be good.
Skyward started out as a software company, but today we’re a lot more than just software. We help companies and public agencies using drones to gather critical, actionable data quickly, safely, and efficiently through our four basic service offerings. Our aviation management platform for complete operational oversight, fast access to controlled airspace, flight logging, in-flight tools, and post-flight analysis. Our professional services team can be used for proof of concept development, creating general operating manuals, SOPs, checklists, online and in-field training for your specific use cases. We can also fast track a small program to complex operations through waiver support and regulatory engagements.
Our team also has the ability to source and sell the latest equipment and accessories to help our customers speed up the procurement cycle by getting drones, iPads, batteries, and necessary equipment all in one place. Complex use cases, like a lot of people are moving towards — beyond visual line of sight is one example, delivery is another — those things require safe and reliable technology. As a Verizon company, we have access to the most reliable cellular network and we can work with your organization to test and deploy drones connected over 4G LTE and 5G.
We’re in the process of standing up two aviation development centers, with our initial facilities located in Hillsboro, Oregon and Portland, Skyward’s hometown. We’re also standing up a remote operations team to support connected aircraft operations nationwide. The ADCs, for short, are where our customers and partners can come and test connected drones and advanced use cases with the aviation and connectivity experts at Skyward and Verizon.
Rebecca Wilson 18:27
We know that the companies we work with are committed to safety, transparency, compliance, and their bottom line, just as Verizon is. We developed the Skyward platform specifically to make it easy for enterprises to manage drone programs, even very complex ones, that are safer, follow regulations, are accessible to company stakeholders, and that have high ROI.
Here you can see just a few of the enterprises we work with. We chose to highlight these entities because they’re among the most complex and sophisticated drone programs, as well as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the preeminent flight training school in the United States. Partnering with companies like these are always helping us to innovate and get better.
The Skyward Aviation Management Platform connects people, projects, and equipment into efficient workflows that include digital airspace access to controlled airspace with LAANC, flight planning and logging, checklists, operational oversight, and stakeholder transparency. You can get out of the office and into the air with office and field tools for streamlined operations.
All right, let’s do one more poll now that you all have heard a little bit more about Skyward. Let us know if you would like to speak with a Skyward business consultant about any of the following: aviation management platform, our professional services, which includes training, hardware procurement, aviation development, connected drones, strategic partnerships? And you can select any of those that apply to you.
All right. I think we have 10 minutes to go for some audience Q&A. Mike, do you want to kick us off?
Mike Morris 20:19
Sure. I’ll read the first question that we’ve got coming in. This is a question from Tim. “I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly what the ROI of starting a program might be. Are there some good starting points that you could recommend?”
So Tim, that’s an awesome question. First, I would say play up the cost of individual pieces of equipment that may be needed onsite — so bucket truck teams, survey crews, et cetera — and work with the numbers guys to determine the real cost of those crews per day or per hour to give you a realistic estimate of the kinds of savings that you could expect if you eliminated the need for them in all scenarios. The goal with drones wouldn’t be to replace that kind of work, but to hopefully need it in less scenarios, thereby making your operations more efficient and justifying your return on investment.
Rebecca Wilson 21:11
All right. So we’ve gotten quite a few questions along these lines: a lot of people are chiming in saying that they’d like to go into business for themselves as a drone pilot, freelance, or start their own small business. Where is the best place to start?
So we always recommend talking to other small business owners outside of drones for advice on this kind of thing. Starting a business is a huge undertaking no matter what industry you’re in or what kind of service you’re providing. Speaking from my own personal experience, having started a business, you can often spend more time doing things like taxes, bookkeeping, marketing, and updating your website than you do actually flying a drone.
So go in with both eyes open. Starting a business is tough. If your passion in life is not entrepreneurship, but actually flying a drone, and that’s really what you want to do, I recommend taking a look at job openings in construction and engineering companies, energy companies, and public utilities in your area. These industries are looking for qualified pilots and we hear from them all the time asking advice how to find qualified pilots.
Either way, I encourage you to visit skyward.io/resources and take a look at our recent case study with SkyScopes, a highly successful aerial services provider. They have been around for a while and they really have discovered what works, and they have great tips. I’ll be sure to include a link to that case study in the follow-up email that I send out to everyone.
Mike Morris 23:01
Another question coming in, it’s a pretty quick one. Does Skyward support LAANC? Yes. Skyward is one of the FAAs preferred LAANC providers and not only can you request real time LAANC authorizations for LAANC-enabled controlled airspace directly through the Skyward interface, but you can also submit further coordination requests in the case that you need to fly over published facility grid altitudes: say, for example, 200 feet in a 100 foot grid. All of that transacts directly from Skyward to the FAA, and the local FSDO will consider that and get responses back to you for approvals.
Rebecca Wilson 23:40
Another question: is Skyward embedded in DroneDeploy or vice versa? So we’re a partner in the DroneDeploy app store, and that means that our flights sync automatically between DroneDeploy and Skyward.
Mike Morris 23:58
Yeah. So if you are flying and processing with DroneDeploy, you have the ability to bring those flight telemetries, the flight logs, in from DroneDeploy, and have them be attached to the operations that you’re flying inside of Skyward. We have a great user guide article on this and we’d be happy to send that as a link out with the rest of the webinar debrief materials.
Rebecca Wilson 24:20
Another question: is Skyward limited to the USA? Skyward does primarily support operations in the US with limited airspace information in other countries.
Does Skyward have any insights on the FAA Remote ID requirements? So, yes we do. We actually just hosted a webinar last week on Remote ID. You can watch a recording at skyward.io/resources. We also have a bunch of blog articles on this topic so you can visit our blog to see more about just facts about the proposed rule and how Skyward views them. One thing we definitely want to stress is that we are years away from implementation and requirements for Remote ID compliance from operators. We have more about that on the webinar and Skyward blogs, but this is not something that’s coming tomorrow or even this year or next year. It is years away.
Mike Morris 25:26
So another quick one here. What are options for remote rural areas with bad 4G coverage? So I don’t know if that question is specific to the Remote ID mandate that we just addressed or it’s kind of Skyward in general, but you do have the ability to still fly in an offline mode in remote areas without service and have those flight logs saved locally to your device so that you can bring them back into Skyward or some other management platform.
Additionally, Skyward has developed and is working on kind of implementing drone operations vehicles, which will allow us to actually take mobile connectivity into the field. Basically, we’ve miniaturized a cellular network that we have on a truck that we can deploy to more rural areas to stand up coverage where there may not have been any previously.
Rebecca Wilson 26:20
Yes, the drone operations vehicles are super, super cool.
Okay, another question. How will 5G impact drone use? So 5G will unlock use cases we haven’t even thought of yet and not just for drones. One of the major or two of the major benefits of 5G is its low latency and high bandwidth. Those two things are really important for remote connected flights. When 5G is widely available, we’ll be able to fly a drone anywhere and deploy it remotely from somewhere else, and we can stream hi-res video or data or AI data back in real time.
So it’ll be really interesting to see what that all means. But 5G is a really powerful technology and it’s just getting started.
Mike Morris 27:25
So next question, do LAANC authorizations save as a document in Skyward? So anytime you send a LAANC authorization from Skyward to the FAA, you are served back from the FAA what’s called a notice of authorization. And that notice of authorization shows exactly which airspace you’re authorized to fly in and it provides a bunch of sort of legalese that we get back from the FAA that says you’re going to follow all of the provisions of Part 107.
That document comes into Skyward as a PDF that you can either render in the mobile application while you’re out in the field or you can download it, print it out so that you have it if you’re more a paper kind of person.
Rebecca Wilson 28:07
All right. It looks like we have time for maybe one last question, which is how: much does Skyward cost? While we would love to talk with you about pricing and subscription options, we have a bunch of different packages and offerings, so drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us what you’re interested in and we will be sure to get back to you right away.
I think that does it. We are two minutes under. We got through our pro tips. Thank you to everyone who joined today. Keep an eye on your inbox and we will be sending out the recording of this presentation as well as answers to your most frequently asked questions that we didn’t have a chance to get to today. And keep an eye on our blog for upcoming information. And as we like to say, at Skyward, upward, onward, and Skyward.
Mike Morris 29:12
Have a great day.