In a webinar hosted by Engineering News-Record and sponsored by Skyward, Moss & Associates shared about how they set up a successful drone program with the help of Skyward.
Click here to watch the recording and download the slides, or read the transcript below.
Derrick Teal (0:00)
Good afternoon and welcome this webinar, Pilots & Executives: Harmonious Drone Programs From the Ground Up. This event, brought to you by Engineering News-Record, is sponsored by Skyward, a Verizon company, and partnered with Moss & Associates. I’m your moderator, Derrick Teal, ENR’s content deployment manager. Thanks for joining us.
During this webinar, you will discover how Moss & Associates, a national construction management company, effectively collaborated between their employees, executives, and other business groups to develop the company’s first drone program. We will also discuss what enterprises need to build a program from the ground up in a matter of weeks. Before we introduce today’s presenters, please enjoy this brief instructional video on how to use your webinar console.
Today’s presenters are Michael Morris, customer success manager at Skyward. Scott Gerard, vice president of environmental, health and safety at Moss & Associates, and Benjamin Fritzsche, assistant project manager at Moss & Associates. Mike Morris serves as a customer success manager and a technical expert for Skyward. In his role, Mike helps enterprises establish and scale their drone program. He’s also adept at reviewing existing drone programs and helping to quantify ROI and justification for additional use cases.
As vice president of environmental health and safety at Moss & Associates, Scott Gerard provides strategic development and implementation of all environmental, health, safety, and security procedures for projects in the United States, Caribbean, and The Bahamas. He’s responsible for the adherence of all applicable OSHA, EPA, and DOT guidance, minimize risk for staff and contractors on site through streamlined, effective, guided communications and directives.
As a project manager at Moss & Associates, Ben Fritzsche works closely with project staff to ensure the overall success of a project during the preconstruction, construction, and closeout phases. His specific duties include project management, development and implementation of the scheduling and logistics plan, cost, quality and safety control, contract administration, and owner and subcontractor negotiation.
Don’t forget to submit your questions, and later in the program our presenters will address as many as possible. Today’s event is being recorded and archived on enr.com/webinars. Now I’m excited to turn it over to today’s first presenter, Mike Morris from Skyward. Mike.
Mike Morris (03:33)
Derrick, thanks so much and thank you to everybody that’s on the line. Welcome. Hopefully we get through a lot of good content today.
Before we begin, we want to know, what’s your biggest pain point when launching or scaling a drone program? You can see that question up here on the screen. Our responses are A, getting started, obtaining authorizations and waivers, pilot qualifications and training, developing internal processes and procedures, or something else. If it’s something else, please tell us in the chat. We’ll give you just a second or two to complete this question.
All right, last couple of responses coming in. It looks like the majority of you have some questions about getting started, which is great. Generally that’s really on topic with what we’re going to cover today. That should be perfect.
In our industry, we love to talk about success stories and the innovative ways companies are using drones every day. There’s no shortage of ways businesses are putting drones to work and seeing great results. What we don’t talk about as often are the failures, the programs that have started with promise, but hit an obstacle and disappeared. The truth is, establishing a drone program can be difficult if you don’t have an expert to guide you. Many companies start using drones only to get stuck in a rut because they don’t account for the major pitfalls that can take down a program.
As a customer success manager at Skyward, I get to work with customers at a lot of different stages in their drone operations. Some are experimenting with just a few drones to see if they’re worth the time and money. Others run programs with huge fleets of drones and hundreds of pilots. Here are four major pitfalls that I’ve seen drone programs fail with early in the process of establishing their operations. Number one, not knowing how to start. Number two, not proving out your use cases. Number three, not creating a culture of safety, and number four, failing to get buy-in across the company. We’ll discuss this from both perspectives, professionals in the field and executives, and how the two are able to come together to help each other build and scale a drone program.
Let’s start with the obvious. The top reason drone programs fail to get started is that company personnel don’t know what the first step is. Large enterprises have high standards for safety and low tolerance for risk. I’ve seen promising programs stopped by corporate executives because the UAS program leaders were unable to prove they could adequately manage those risks.
For corporations that don’t already have aviation departments for executive travel, there’s an overwhelming number of factors to think about like, what program standards do I need to set up? How can I be sure I’m following laws and company policies, and what are some best practices all need to follow in the industry?
We have recommendations for each of these. First, engage with your legal risk and compliance team. Meet with those teams early and often to start communication. Every company’s legal and corporate compliance teams have a different tolerance level for new initiatives and technologies. Think about the drone program from the compliance and legal perspective. If you were in their shoes and knew nothing about drones, what would you want to see to feel confident in that program?
Which kind of leads me to my next recommendation. Reduce your risk with solid standard operating procedures. By ensuring that every team and pilot follows the same standard operating procedures for every flight, a company can establish a strong bedrock of accountability and decrease the variables that lead to human error. Standard operating procedures are responsible for making traditional aviation so safe, so it’s only natural to carry this over into unmanned flight.
Additionally, have a system to ensure standardization and transparency. Make sure you’re keeping track of your flight operation. The only way to let your executives know whether their investment is compliant while resulting in a return on investment is to document every part of your program. You should record your mission, 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. The more your program scales, the more line of sight you’re going to need to have into what everybody is doing in your program, 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.
I’m going to loop in one of the other panelists here, Scott Gerard from Moss. Hey Scott. I know that you had some initial apprehension to getting this off the ground officially inside of Moss. How did the guys finally convince you to adopt a program knowing that the risk management aspects would fall squarely on your shoulders?
Scott Gerard (08:37)
Mike, they did that by jumping out ahead of us. We were visiting a site one day in Georgia and I see everybody staring off into the distance and I ask what’s going on, and it turns out that we had bought about a $60,000, 45-pound fixed-wing drone that did LIDAR surveys. Just scared the bejeebus out of me as you can imagine being a safety professional. I asked them to get on the ground so I could see it and then I captured it from them.
We were flying initially without any program, without any standard operating procedures. I knew right away from what they were trying to accomplish, that there was a lot of opportunities for us, being in construction and solar construction, to make use of drones both for aerial pictometry and LiDAR type surveys and other operations.
So we wanted to spin up a program as quickly as we could. Initially, everybody was hamstrung by the FAA and the 333 exemptions. But when they unleashed the 107 certification for us all, that’s when we got on board and were able to get the program spun up correctly and safely.
Mike Morris (10:00)
Awesome. Thank you Scott. So speaking of spinning it up safely, one of the pitfalls associated with that, outside of knowing how to start, is not fully proving out your use cases as you get started. Early in your drone program, you need to establish good fundamental use cases. You’ll have to be clear about the benefits. Do they save time or money or both? Do they reduce risk? How will they help the business? If you can’t prove your drones are delivering value, you risk losing stakeholders and having your program shut down.
So, a few recommendations around that. First, identify use cases that align with company objectives. A good place to start is to identify use cases that may be more than just capturing great aerial photos. We capture those photos, but they may not always be valid if you just let them sit, and 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.
Which brings me to my next point: be really strategic about your data collection. You can collect all the data you want, but if you don’t have a way to action on what you collect, what’s the point? Once you figure out what actionable data your drone program needs, then add on as your program matures and where it makes the most business then. 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. Which, Ben, that brings me to you. How was your team at Moss working to ensure that data collected isn’t just data stored and forgotten about?
Ben Fritzsche (11:50)
Hey Mike, thank you. There’s actually been quite a few ways that we’ve been able to communicate the drone program and the information that we’ve collected. I feel like the first and foremost, most important one is just making everyone aware the drone program is out there. While this drone program does take a lot of effort and energy to set up, it’s easy to get the rollout just lost into a bubble and the entire company’s not aware of the capabilities that are available to them.
When we actually started up the drone program, we sent out a mass distribution email to see who would be interested in the program. Ever since then, people have been very excited and talking about the program extensively. To that point, we actually make all of our files available on a shared server through SharePoint for everyone to access across all of the different regions and divisions that we’re a part of.
We also make people aware of the flights that we’re taking and try and have pilots who are regionally specific that those pilots are then able to communicate and distill down the hundreds of photos sometimes and 30, 40, 50 minutes of videos that we may take and point out to some of the people in the organization what may or may not be useful to them.
Mike Morris (13:16)
Awesome. Thanks Ben. Somewhere along the lines, I thought that I heard that you guys don’t fly unless you’ve received a specific request from a business stakeholder to do so. Is that true?
Ben Fritzsche (13:29)
I would say it’s at the pilot’s discretion. A lot of times that communication process is very informal, which is what I’ve found to be one of the great things because none of us are full time drone pilots for Moss. Having the ability to coordinate our own schedules directly with the people requesting flights has really proved to be a benefit to us in that people can reach out to us as requested. However, the pilot also has access to the drone as requested.
And what we do, have a company policy implemented where we have to check out, we actually developed with Mike and Skyward a lot in the development of these checklists. They ensure that everything is in the case or everything is working properly before taking off. The pilots do have discretion to fly their own jobs as needed.
Mike Morris (14:27)
Sure. And Scott, I know that you have some perspective on this as well. Tell me a little bit about how you see that from the executive side of things.
Scott Gerard (14:35)
Mike, we do look for the stakeholders in the company, in the organization, whether it be operations or marketing or warranty to reach out to those pilots that we have on staff and make their requests. I think we’ll talk about a little later on the webinar here, and that’s how we develop our risk assessment on whether to take the mission or not. But we do have a lot of sales going on internally, if you will, with the pilots like Ben and his counterparts that are selling the service to the other divisions of the company.
Mike Morris (15:12)
Awesome. Thank you both. So once you have your use cases situated, the next big step and potential pitfall is not creating a culture of safety. At Skyward, we’ve talked to hundreds of companies about building safe and professional drone programs. And one thing we’ve seen time and time again is a drone pop-up program or a rogue drone in a business. What I mean by this is often risk managers, legal teams or even aviation departments aren’t aware that their company is flying drones on the job site.
This usually starts with the best of intentions. One drone enthusiast sees potential in taking the tool to work, so he or she brings it out on the job site, shows it off and all of the data that it can collect to demonstrate the real value a drone can provide.
Introducing drones onto a job site without the proper training, policies, procedures, and documentation bring a lot of risks to your company. To mitigate this risk, we have some recommendations.
First, ensure safety and efficiency at scale. With most anything, proficiency comes with practice. It’s vital for your organization to have proper training for your drone pro. It’s always better to simulate and train in a controlled environment rather than discover skill gaps in a live environment. Training is and must be an ongoing commitment. Skills that are not used will diminish over time and new skills will be identified that will need a training program.
Drone training should include the following: Review your past operations and do retros on the lessons that you’ve learned, especially for complicated ops. Do hands-on skill testing and proficiency flying to make sure that you don’t lose that muscle memory. Do recurrency training as far as provisions of Part 107 and make sure that you recertify for any applicable waivers or authorizations that you might receive. Having the right training delivered at the right time is a critical element for a successful drone program.
You need to also make sure that you integrate safety into your workflow. From the outset, show how your workflow will support internal and regulatory compliance, risk mitigation, insurance requirements, and operational safety and efficiency. Having operating procedures and standards checklists will help to ensure uniform safety and quality of operations no matter who performs them.
Lastly, track your inventory maintenance and ensure your fleet is up to speed. Making sure your fleet is properly maintained and your equipment is thoroughly tracked is essential. From the batteries to the propellers, every inch of your aircraft needs to be inspected and documented. Documentation is key because it’s not enough to simply replace a part. Knowing when, how and why a part was replaced is vital to understanding your equipment and forecasting your maintenance needs in the future, increasing safety and reducing the cost of upkeep over time.
So Scott, I know that safety and risk is your specialty here. You formed a drone committee with the pilot group to reinforce the safety culture a bit. Tell us how that committee came about and what you’ve seen internally as a result.
Scott Gerard (18:28)
Well, Mike, if I could, you mentioned the rogue pilots going out and starting to fly, and we also experienced that as well. We started to see the results of what we could capture with the drones and knew we wanted to be compliant. And again, that is a big part of what I do. We went to our vision leadership team, our C suite, if you will, and told them that we wanted to take this task on of establishing a safe drone program. Something that was sustainable, something that could have proven output and deliverables, and something that we could repeat and scale. That’s how we approach this.
Mike Morris (19:18)
Awesome. So Ben, I know you serve on that drone committee. Tell me a little bit about how it’s been to talk this culture of safety with the guys.
Ben Fritzsche (19:28)
Well, honestly, when we initiated the program, we all met in South Florida for a week of training, and there were several people that are a part of the drone committee now that I was not familiar with at the time. So having the ability to spend a week with those guys and gals and get to know them and joke around, I think really started this off on the right foot.
As you’ve gone through the process, because none of us were extremely familiar with how this was going to be rolled out. And of course, as you go along, there’s several situations that you encounter, and while you try and plan for each situation and in the meetings at Skyward, the questions that pop up, we initially addressed in a weekly call. Someone would talk about their experiences with weather or being requested to come out to too many job sites maybe and how you handle that. Or deciding at what point the batteries get too low, and just generally our standard operating procedures.
As you went through this call weekly and developed the procedures, it gave us a great opportunity to really personalize it for our own needs and to have Scott’s buy off without just being handed a booklet of regulations and procedures that we had to follow.
Now as we’ve gone throughout the process over the past 10 months or so since being trained, we’ve reduced the frequency of those calls. However, the calls, I feel, are much more impactful now because when we do meet it’s usually to discuss one or two critical items that someone hasn’t been able to resolve. Typically, people speak with other pilots in the program to get their opinion, but there are just a few lingering issues every session that we clarify, which has been great.
Mike Morris (21:27)
Awesome. That sounds really good. And I think what you’re pointing at there is really making sure that you have buy-in with the group across the company. That segues me really nicely into our last pitfall or area of concern when starting a program, is potentially failing to get buy-in.
It’s really smart to educate fellow employees as well as corporate leadership about the drone program. Your largest hurdle might be convincing top level executives that your drone program is worth the investment. Getting signoff on your program is an involved process that may take steps like networking with others so that they’re aware of the program, getting initial funding for the capital expense of your program, obtaining and communicating ROI so that you can show exactly how the program is paying you back, tracking your operations so that you have data to work with, and calling attention to industry peers or competitors that are leveraging drones.
A few steps to help with this part. First, know what you need to provide and work backwards. Start by describing the business problem that drones will solve. For example, inventory is getting lost or infrastructure takes 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 to increase revenue, cut costs, or both.
Also, it’s often smart to start with a pilot program. Don’t try to tackle multiple use cases all at once. Instead, propose a pilot program for a simple, low risk use case and lead with the value you expect to achieve. Be smart about the use case you choose for your pilot program. You want something that’s simple, straightforward and that you feel very confident will save money, make money or both. Once you complete a successful pilot then you’re going to have the buy-in that you need to continue to scale up to more sophisticated operations.
Lastly, calculate your ROI and use it to scale your drone program. All use cases come with costs. There’s the cost of the drone hardware and equipment. Then you’ll need software and tools to manage your fleet, process data and build models if that’s what you’re doing, but a good use case will have benefits that far outweigh the cost of drone operations. In order to scale your drone program, you need to be able to prove to your executives the drones are worth the financial investment. Usually they’ll want to see dollar savings.
I’m going to skip to another poll question that follows along with this. Do you have executive approval for your drone program? Read the answers below and respond. Yes, we have an active program with executive support. Yes, we have an executive approval to start a drone program. No, our program does not have an executive sponsor or no, we are not flying drones or we are using a single pilot entity without the need for executive approval. So I’m going to give you about 30 seconds here to answer this question and then we’ll move more into exactly what Moss is doing with their program.
It looks like we’ve got a pretty even race between those that have an active program with some support and those that don’t have the need for executive approval yet, with a few in the middle. So it’s a diversified crowd, which is fun.
So from here, I want to turn things over to Scott and Ben from Moss to talk a little bit about what they’re doing with drones and what their experience has been so far about a year into their program. So Scott, I think you’re going to do the “about Moss” here. Give us just a little overview into who you guys are and what you guys do.
Scott Gerard (25:50)
Well, thanks Mike. We’re a national construction management company. We build a variety of projects from high rise office buildings to school campus buildings. The Marlins Ballpark in Miami was one of the projects we’re real proud of, port and airport facilities across the country. And then we also have a division that does utility scale solar projects, hundreds and hundreds of acres of solar panels. We have about 700 full time employees. We have another 1,500 or 1,600 hourly employees. We’re consistently ranked in ENR’s top 100 general contractors. We have offices nationwide that span from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, which is our headquarters, to Honolulu. And our program has 14 pilots. We have seven aircraft that we fly.
Mike, as you were talking about spinning up the program, we were originally flying about one mission a week and I just looked at the Skyward platform, and we are flying now one mission plus per day. So our program’s been very successful in ramping up. That’s a little bit about the company and our program.
Mike Morris (27:07)
Yeah, that’s great, Scott. Thanks for that insight. I actually didn’t know that, which I probably should. Ben, speaking of the maturation of the program and how you’ve been growing up, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’ve actually been doing when you’ve been flying?
Ben Fritzsche (27:26)
Yeah, so there’s lots of different use cases that we’ve discovered one, but two, thought of at the onset for what we utilize to convince the executives to fund the program. To Scott’s earlier point with the solar panels, the hundreds and hundreds of acres, it’s hard to really get the scale of some of these solar fields, many points where you can’t even see the other side. I can tell you that it may take 30, 45 minutes to drive around an entire site.
They’re large projects with tens of thousands of panels, and these panels get extremely dirty throughout. Usually they’re big fields, so they get very dirty throughout the course of a year or two years. That drastically decreases the efficiency of some of these panels. So having the ability to throw the drone up there quickly and even fly pre-programmed routes so that you’re able to reference back to the same location that you looked at a month, two, three months, a year ago has been a great asset so we can identify areas that may need some sort of protection from the elements or areas that may need to be cleaned.
Now, from a commercial aspect, the uses are fantastic from pre-construction through construction and into the warranty phase. Just to touch briefly on those: in pre-construction, it’s been a great tool to envision what the space will look like once complete or at least the views, what those posts will be. During construction, we’ll use the drone to fly the decks and see the sleeve locations and PT cables in the deck, which to my earlier point about being able to fly pre-programmed routes and knowing where the drones at in space, has been fantastic.
Through the warranty phase, instead of having to either drop a GoPro camera down or try and set up the swing stage or some bungee cords. No, I’m kidding, Scott. We’re able to put the drone up very quickly, have video recorded evidence. We can also utilize FLIR cameras or cameras that are sensitive to heat signatures to tell if there may be a leak or not in the building. Lastly, something that I’ve recently become aware of is the ability of drones with it being paired to a GPS base station to evaluate cut sill activities as well, which is a really interesting use case.
Mike Morris (30:04)
Great, Ben. Thanks so much. As Moss worked to scale up their drone program and sophisticate their use cases, they called Skyward to help with this. Moss worked with Skyward through something called our Quick-Start Package where we basically became their single source provider to stand up a drone program from scratch. The Quick-Start package allowed us to partner with Moss to deliver hardware, software, training, certification and SOPs to ensure that their drone program came up safely and compliantly.
So Quick-Start typically runs the course of, say, six to eight weeks depending on implementation. We start by ordering drones, making sure that there’s going to be hardware, working with pilots to get their Part 107 certification and proving out the use cases and standard operating procedures that are going to be used in the field.
Next, we come on site with the team from the firms that contract us and do platform training, both so that they understand how to use the inventory and safety management systems that we offer, and then also so that they can understand how to actually fly a drone. Skyward works with a dedicated professional services team that is made up of primarily a bunch of former military aviators, Black Hawk helicopter pilots, fighter jet guys, you name it. But those guys are also really good at flying drones. So we go out into the field for three days, teach companies how to understand their aircraft and then how to safely operate it.
So over the course of eight weeks, you can go from no program to a functional program that’s ready to operate autonomously without much assistance. Knowing that that’s how we did things, Ben, Scott, and Scott, we’ll start with you. I’m curious for your impression of how this went when we came on to go through the steps with Moss.
Scott Gerard (32:10)
The process was just fantastic, Mike. As you know, part of my background is an aviation background. I worked for an air ambulance medical provider for a number of years. And what we were able to accomplish with the Skyward rapid deploy solution was we spun up an aviation department. It wasn’t us being able to fly a drone to take a picture. We actually started an aviation department inside the company.
Now, our aircraft are a little bit smaller than I’ve used in the past. But the standard operating procedures, that’s the Bible, that’s the manual that tells us how and when to fly a mission, how to select that mission and how to do a proper risk assessment to make sure that that’s the right way to deliver whatever it is the final product is to our stakeholders in our operations and marketing and pre-construction groups. The training, both the classroom and the hands-on training were fantastic. They were everything I’d wanted. We were able to accomplish all of our goals to be compliant, safe, insured, minimize our risks in a fashion and in a timeline that was far compressed from what we could have done on our own.
Mike Morris (33:36)
Great. Thanks Scott. I understand that you ultimately had purchase authority with that and that you were the executive involved. Ben, you were somebody who was actually working the sticks during that training and really learning how to fly for the first time. So tell me from your perspective, how was that class and how did it help you to scale for your future operation?
Ben Fritzsche (34:00)
Well, one of the things that we are trying to achieve here at Moss as part of our core values is a contagious energy. And I can tell you that everyone that I’ve worked with on Moss’s side embodies that. The folks over at Skyward just matched us tit-for-tat and really brought the energy and I think brought the entire experience home for everyone.
As far as the rollout goes, I couldn’t have been happier with the training. The actual Part 107 certification is something that’s required for anyone who’s going to be enrolled in flying a drone. That process takes, it can take several weeks if you’re very diligent about it. However, there’s always going to be some people who maybe need a little more prompting.
The ability and communication from Scott giving people several months before they actually had to show up in South Florida and present the certificate and learn how to fly and work the sticks was great. And I would say another thing that I really enjoyed and thought was smart that we did was, we didn’t just roll it out to one or two people and walk Scott and another executive level person through the program. But we, like I said, made a mass communication email to see who was interested and ended up deploying about 15 people out into the field and bringing them down for training and everything.
Because we are spread all across the country, it’s obviously hard when we have other jobs to manage to get out to every single job. So I think that we did a fantastic job of one, ensuring that there was complete coverage for every market, but two, that there was at least two pilots in each area. So that there’s someone for them to fall back on as a support, someone to have as a visual observer as needed because especially flying around cranes and crane operators, depending how friendly they are, can get a little dicey. So having someone there that you can rely on has been great.
Once we completed the Part 107 certification, which actually required a trip to the airport and a full test, the training itself on behalf of Skyward was fantastic. We split up the coursework the first day, all in the classroom. On the second and third days we were able to fly the drone both days, which rather than just having to sit in the classroom, being able to spread it out over a couple of days really helped, I think, ingrain the things that we learned and allows you to come back the second day with any questions or things you weren’t quite sure about and figure out again before we just got scattered back out into the wild world with some drones in our hands.
Mike Morris (36:55)
Yeah. Ben, that’s actually an awesome transition for me into the next slide that we’re going to put up here. Tell me a little bit about your lessons learned and going through really being responsible for building a drone program from the ground up. Ben, let’s start with you and then kick it to Scott.
Ben Fritzsche (37:13)
Okay. Yeah, I think that a lot of the points that are listed here I just touched on, although I will say that the continuing ability to change the program to fit your needs with approval has been great. We’ve actually found that while it was initially required that each pilot be accompanied by another pilot as a VO, that proved pretty difficult to get two people away from their current project and bring them to another job, which could be a couple hours away and have them work together.
So as people have gotten more comfortable, we’ve actually established a policy where if you have flown three flights, one as the VO and then two as the pilot, you’re able to then go and have another Moss employee be a visual observer for you. That’s opened up a lot of doors and I think really contributed to those improvements in the quantity of flights that Scott was talking about.
Mike Morris (38:21)
Awesome. So, Scott, how about you? What are your lessons learned now almost a year in?
Scott Gerard (38:27)
Mike, understanding those use cases that help justify the ROI. We really looked at it, again, from the risk perspective, the hardware is relatively inexpensive to be honest with you. The Skyward platform cost is pretty negligible for us. Insurance costs are not a significant cost to us. But we really looked at the ROI of risk mitigation.
Ben mentioned earlier one of our first use cases and that was warranty inspections. On a high rise building, if you have a window leaking, a lot of times we would hire a company to put a Bosun’s chair over the side of the building and we’d lower somebody down the side of the building, and we’ve completely eliminated that. That’s one of the ways that we looked at ROI. So it’s not strictly cash or the financial investment, which ties into that second bullet point that you’ve got on the screen, conducting that risk assessment. So both of those are part of our ROI calculation.
Buy-in from all the stakeholders, once we could establish that yes, there’s a need to fly the missions, the investment is minimal, we took that to the leadership of the different division heads and sold the program. We further went out — coincidentally when we had the Skyward rapid deploy training here at Moss, our annual leadership meeting where we brought just about half of the company together for our annual state of the union, if you will. We featured the drone program to make users aware of the program and also make them aware of how to request a drone flight.
Then finally making sure that the solution is scalable. So if we’d started with one or two pilots, we would have quickly overwhelmed them, not been able to respond to requests and could have had the program collapse on itself.
Mike Morris (40:45)
Really good perspective, Scott, and appreciate that. So on the back of those lessons learned, I have one more poll for everybody. We’ll do this one quick. Would you like to speak to Skyward about a program like Quick-Start seeing the success that Moss has had with a program like this? So either yes, please contact me. No, not interested. Or not yet, we’re not quite ready.
So from here, let’s talk a little bit about flying with Skyward. We have a few other things for you that we’ve prepared on the back of this conversation that we’ve had with Moss. The first thing that we want you to know, and then we’ll get into Q&A, is that Skyward is more than just software. We have Skyward work a lot on the inventory and safety management pieces of things. We help companies manage airspace considerations, manage risk with checklists and SOPs and so on.
But we extend far beyond just the software. In cases like with Moss, we’ve helped them not only with software, but also with a professional services team that went out into the field and taught them how to fly drones. We sourced all of their aircraft and hardware for them to simplify the cycles of procurement and ensure that they had everything that they needed, the single source for a PO.
Last but not least, we are on the cutting edge of proving out how drones can fly over things like cellular networks instead of your more traditional unsecured radio frequency. As a Verizon company, we’re pretty uniquely situated to capitalize on a lot of the things that are going on with the FAA’s Remote ID laws and how we can bring cellular into the fold to ensure safe and compliant drone operation.
Additionally, some of the nation’s largest brands trust us to help them fly in more ways and more places. So from our airspace intelligence to our safety and efficiency reporting system, our transparency and oversight abilities, companies like Verizon, Southern Company, which is one of the largest power conglomerates in the United States, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who certifies more manned and unmanned pilots than any other organization in the country, and then Moss Construction have partnered with us to ensure that we help to deliver on our promises and help them to deliver their programs.
So Ben, I want to throw it over to you here real fast. Tell me a little bit about your interaction with Skyward just as a whole.
Ben Fritzsche (44:00)
I think that the entire team there has been awesome. I actually had a note written down here that if you didn’t say yes to the question, the last one, I don’t know if there’s a way that you should go back and say yes, if for no other reason than just to talk to Mike and the rest of the team there because they’re a lot of fun and great guys and I’m very happy and privileged that I got to spend the time with them and form that kind of relationship.
Beyond that, Mike and I have stayed in constant contact. Anything that I may have a question on, whether that’s trying to coordinate with an airport for approval to fly outside of a LAANC grid, which is an FAA defined space that the drones are preapproved to operate in, he’s been able to help me with and assist in crafting language and contacting people.
Beyond that, the response time that I’ve experienced has been phenomenal. I will be going out into the field to go fly drone and think of a question or remember something I had thought and I’ll flip over an email to the Skyward folks. And before I can even hit control, alt, delete and close my computer, I’ve already got an email back. So the response time, the comprehensiveness of their responses, and to Mike’s earlier point, the familiarity that a lot of these people have with the FAA and military flight operations is something that you’re not going to get from a video or a textbook. That real world experience is truly invaluable.
Mike Morris (45:32)
Awesome. Thank you, Ben. I really appreciate the kind words, and it’s been a blast to get to know and work with Moss. So the last thing that I want to touch on from Skyward’s perspective is just our aviation management platform, which is the core of our business. Skyward helps companies that have fleets of drones to manage their fleets, manage their pilots and their certification and manage the operations that they’re dispatched to fly. So everything from pre-flight operational planning through understanding airspace to actually assigning crew and aircraft to operations and doing checklist and SOP maintenance in the field, Skyward can assist with.
Last but not least, if you’re flying DJI drones, you can also use our iPad app, Skyward InFlight, to stick fly and command and control those drones out in the field. That way you’re playing inside of one ecosystem instead of having to bounce back and forth between softwares. So it’s just part of our commitment to allow you to fly with confidence and act intelligently while you’re out there in the field.
From here, I think I’m going to pass it back over to Derrick. Derrick, good afternoon. Let’s get to some Q&A.
Derrick Teal (46:54)
All right. Thank you all for a great presentation. And before we get to those questions, the questions that have been submitted throughout the program, I wanted to remind everybody in the audience that we’d love your feedback and you can provide that to us by using our webinar survey. We use that to improve our program.
Now I’d like to get on to the first question, and this is for you, Scott. Do you think your aviation background helped speed up Moss’s adoption of drones? If so, if not, do you have any advice for people who don’t have that kind of experience?
Scott Gerard (47:28)
Well, I think I was probably more open-minded to it possibly than other executives might’ve been just because of working in the space, the aviation space. But I don’t think that any of that knowledge, though, brought forward really impacted our ability to get the program up in the air.
Derrick Teal (47:51)
Then this next question, I think this might be for Scott, it might be Ben as well. What are you doing to expand your program and what systems have you put in place to ensure that your flight ops will be able to scale up?
Scott Gerard (48:07)
I’ll start and Ben can finish if he’s got something here. We have expanded our program. Again, I mentioned earlier how busy we’re getting with the program. We’ve added three additional pilots from the inaugural class and that’s just come from the excitement that’s been generated from the different project teams and different people that are enthusiasts or maybe hobbyist that were flying recreationally to be a part of the program. So we think that just the visibility of the drones being out on the job sites at the offices will help us be able to be scalable with the program.
Ben Fritzsche (48:56)
Yeah. And I guess just that… Oh sorry.
Derrick Teal (48:59)
No, I was just going to ask if you have anything more to add. Thank you.
Ben Fritzsche (49:02)
Yeah. I would say just as maybe a followup to the lessons learned. I would say, ensure that you’re selecting pilots who have been and you feel plan to be with the company for a while. To Scott’s point, maybe this isn’t prohibitively extensive. However, the time requirements placed on individuals are stringent. And if you do happen to lose some pilots, which I don’t believe that we have, I think that we did a good job taking the right people. But if you do lose pilots, the lag time that you may encounter with ramping up a new program and new pilots, it can take a while. Furthermore, just having pilots who went to the class in person is a great benefit.
Derrick Teal (49:57)
So how did you at Moss decide to spend your investment in drone hardware and would you recommend businesses start with lower end models or invest up front in the higher grade machine?
Ben Fritzsche (50:13)
Scott, I think that’s probably a good one for you to start with and then I can chime in.
Scott Gerard (50:18)
Sure. So we again, we had that big asset that we already owned. But when we met with Skyward, we gave them the parameters of what we thought our mission profiles would look like. We knew that we would be more interested in still photography than videography. So we relied a lot on their recommendations for the DJIs, and they helped us acquire that hardware.
Mike Morris (50:53)
Yeah. And I think the big thing for me to chime in on to that end is as part of the culture of safety that we build, our goal is always going to be to advocate for the lowest common denominator. Fly the smallest aircraft that you can fly to get the job done. Because at the end of the day, that’s going to make things safer and easier for your pilot.
So if you’re flying a 30 pound M600 that’s got a giant LiDAR rig on it, and that’s the first drone that you’ve ever flown, you’ll crash that and $75,000 goes with it. Whereas if you’re learning on a Mavic 2 Pro and you are using that to do basic photogrammetry and modeling, it has everything necessary to produce amazing results for you, and it costs literally a fraction of what you would spend on some of those bigger airframes. So we tend to do that whole “big toys must be nicer toys,” but a lot of the time in the circumstance, you can get the job done that you need to accomplish with an airframe that’s not going to break the bank.
Derrick Teal (52:00)
Awesome. Thanks. So, Scott and Ben, what drones does Moss typically utilize in general construction activities?
Ben Fritzsche (52:14)
Oh, I can take this one. To Mike’s point, we do utilize the Mavic 2 Pro and we initially purchased, I believe, Scott, it was six, correct?
Scott Gerard (52:25)
Ben Fritzsche (52:28)
Six of the exact same packages. So not only is that great because all of the pilots are familiar with all of the components and when Skyward comes in, they train you, it’s one airframe that you’re training on and so everyone is familiar. But also any accessories that you may purchase or any upgrades you may be looking to do, you can both test it out with one drone and see if it works for that person or that group of people. But then you’re also able to share accessories as you determine which ones and maybe some are more or less expensive than others, I think. Ensuring that you have as a base drone the same model is awesome.
Derrick Teal (53:13)
So talking about pilots, Scott, are your pilots only doing drone flights for the company or do they have other responsibilities?
Scott Gerard (53:23)
Well, I think some of them wish they only flew drone missions. They all have other responsibilities. Ben is our chief pilot, and is a project manager, so his day job is all the things that were outlined earlier in his bio. One of the fun parts of his job is to be able to provide these services.
That’s another important buy-in point when you’re setting this program up, is making sure that Ben’s boss in this case and his boss’s boss understand that there will be requests for his time on other projects in other profit centers in the company. And how do you manage that? Do we just take him away from his day job to go fly a mission or do we have some kind of internal mechanism put in place to compensate that project or division that’s lost his time while he’s preparing for and flying that mission?
Derrick Teal (54:23)
Right. Let’s find out. Mike, if you don’t mind, tell us a little bit more about Skyward. What is it, do you do vertical facades, do you create usable point clouds that can be used in civil engineering software like Autodesk? Just tell us a little bit more about what you offer.
Mike Morris (54:40)
Sure. So generally speaking, the Skyward platform is going to take you through every facet of flight from planning of flights through execution of flights and then into some post-flight analytics relative to things like aircraft behavior. Where Skyward really stops is with the data processing end of things. We want to be there to manage your safety, your crew, your inventory. We don’t want to be there necessarily to manage your data with regard to the photos and media that are taken.
In those cases, we partner with other industry partners to provide those services and we actually have some fairly tight integration with some post-processing services. I’d be happy to talk more about that later with other folks who need to follow up.
Derrick Teal (55:33)
Thank you. And Scott, what would you say was a surprise return on investment from the program that you didn’t really anticipate at first?
Scott Gerard (55:45)
I think one of the surprise missions that we’re flying is, if I could couch the question that way, was hurricane preparedness and then how we weathered hurricanes. We’re a Florida-based company, so we’re very aware of being prepared for a hurricane. But last year we had a couple of scares and we were able to fly the drones to show the condition of the job site before we started our preparations, at the end of our preparations, prior to the storm arriving, and then after the storm. So it gave us a lot of documentation that, had we experienced a direct hit, our insurance carriers, both our general liability and business risk carriers, would have been very, very interested in seeing that we had documented it via the drones. Without it, it’s he said she said in some cases. That was probably the biggest unanticipated ROI.
Derrick Teal (56:50)
And Mike, what do you think Skyward can do for something like a two-person drone startup? Is this the kind of company that would be too small for something like Skyward?
Mike Morris (57:07)
No, definitely not. I think that our goal at Skyward isn’t necessarily the size of the company, but rather the ambition of the company that we work with. We find our greatest success in companies that have ever-evolving and ever-growing programs, and we’re really good at helping them to sort out the logistics that come along with that. My answer to that is basically, as long as you feel like your company is continuing to grow and that you’re on a path towards evolving your operation, then that is something that Skyward wants to be a part of and we’d be happy to partner to do that.
Derrick Teal (57:47)
Scott, tell us a little bit about your training program. What was that like for a pilot?
Scott Gerard (57:54)
Well, the initial training was offered through Skyward. When we bring in the rapid deploy model, that gave us a strong core group of pilots. When we bring a new pilot in, a lot of times what we’re seeing right now are again, those hobbyists and enthusiasts and recreational fliers. So we partner them with one of our Skyward-trained pilots, if you will, to make sure that we break any bad habits that they’ve developed previously or get them started off on the right foot if they’re a new pilot. Then recurrently, what we do is we schedule check rides, the equivalent of a check ride where one pilot was watching another one prepare his mission, document the mission and then fly it. So he’s just giving, again, the equivalent of an aviation check ride for those pilots and we do that on a recurrent basis throughout the year.
Derrick Teal (58:57)
Awesome. Great. That’s unfortunately going to be all the time we have for questions today. I hope everybody in the audience will please join me in thanking Mike Morris from today’s sponsor Skyward, as well as Scott Gerard and Ben Fritzsche from Moss & Associates for their presentation.
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