In this webinar, two of Skyward’s drone experts share best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid in managing a commercial drone program at any stage.

Click here to watch the recording and download the slides, or read the transcript below.

Isaac Bruns (0:00)

Hello and welcome to today’s webinar on Drone Program Dos and Don’ts: Tips to Build, Scale & Innovate. I’m Isaac Bruns, marketing content manager here at Skyward, and I will be moderating today’s webinar.

It’s been a very challenging few weeks for myself and for our panelists as I’m sure it has been for most of you. Today’s webinar is being brought to you fully remote as all of Skyward’s employees are working from home and doing our part to slow the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, Skyward, like Verizon, is still here, and we are ready. We are fully prepared to continue to support your business and your drone programs during this time.

We know many of you are serving essential services or critical infrastructure, and leveraging technology is more important than ever. Keep an eye out for communications from the Skyward team on how we will continue to serve you and offer more free educational content like this webinar. And if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to our team through the skyward.io website or by emailing us at contact@skyward.io. And with that said, let’s get on with the webinar.

I’m excited for our topic today because for us here at Skyward, this is the field we work in every day. We support enterprise drone programs at major companies across the country, whether they’re standing up a program from nothing or growing into advanced operations. We’re also a listening ear to our customers and industry partners when things don’t go so well. I’m very fortunate to have with me today two panelists who are experts in the drone industry. They will be sharing their insights and tips on what makes a drone program successful.

First off, I’d like to introduce Bill Stafford, a professional services delivery engineer at Skyward. Welcome, Bill, and tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Bill Stafford (2:12)

Hi everyone. My name is Bill Stafford. I have a background in military aviation as both a manned instructor helicopter pilot and an unmanned operations officer. I currently serve in the Indiana National Guard as a drug interdiction pilot flying the LUH Lakota, which is a Eurocopter 145. My current position within Skyward is a lead trainer for the professional services team. Our primary job is to work with enterprise level organizations to build drone programs or scale an existing program.

Isaac Bruns (2:45)

Thanks Bill. Glad to have you on today, and also on our panel is Mike Danielak, our director of UAS strategic solutions here at Skyward. Mike, it’s great to have you. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself as well.

Mike Danielak (2:59)

Thanks Isaac. Hello everybody. My background is in electrical engineering and project management, first in aerospace and defense, but then later in the wireless and mobility industry. I’m a drone pilot and I’m also a private pilot that flies recreationally. I’ve been at Skyward for about three years and I’m based in the Atlanta area. My role at Skyward is to work with our customers on new and creative ways drones can be applied to solve their business problems.

Isaac Bruns (3:33)

Thanks Mike. In addition to our panelists, we have a few Skyward team members who will be jotting down your questions in the chat and Q&A boxes. If we have time at the end of the webinar, we may address some of these questions live. If we don’t get to your question, rest assured that we’ll be addressing the top questions from the webinar in our follow-up materials. We will also be sending everyone who registered a recording and slides from this presentation. Please feel free to share them with colleagues or industry friends.

All right, let’s go ahead and dive in. We’ll be discussing best practices for setting up or scaling your drone program. First I’d like to start with a quick poll.

We want to know what stage your drone program is in. Choose an option in the poll window to let us know. You may not have a drone program in place yet and you’re just curious, or maybe you’re in the beginning phase and you’re just starting to set up what you need. You may be building your program, flying a few missions and getting some early results or maybe you have a program that’s well established and you’re looking toward the future and what’s next.

So let us know where you’re at. I’m seeing those results come in now. Looks like we have a majority in the “getting started” or in the “up and running” phases. It looks like we have some initial programs in the audience today as well as quite a few who are still in the planning stage. In fact it looks like an even split between planning, getting started and up and running with a few others in the advanced or ready to scale stages. Very glad to have you on today and thanks for that information on where your programs are at.

Today we’ll be looking at obstacles for three different phases of a drone program: building, scaling, and innovating. So we’ll be hitting every one of those stages we just asked about. We’ll look at some of the best practices you should follow, as well as what not to do and how to avoid pitfalls.

Let’s start at the beginning, building a drone program. If you’re setting up a program for the first time, you have a lot of hurdles to clear. Maybe you’re building a program from scratch and you’re not sure where to start. Or maybe you have a couple of drones, but you don’t have any formal policies. Mike, why don’t you start us off? What’s one of the first things a new drone program needs to do to set themselves up for success?

Mike Danielak (6:08)

Well, there’s probably a couple of different paths to starting a new program within an organization. You ought to look at what’s worked in the past. You know your organization and what’s worthwhile, but you want to leverage whatever you can — all those paths — and identify what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t. But at a minimum you’re going to have to go identify who those other stakeholders are, who those executives are. They’re going to be relevant to this operation. They’re all going to want to maximize returns and minimize risks, but each of them are going to have a different take on it. And there’s really three key steps to winning over those stakeholders.

First of all, you’re probably going to want to do a proof of concept. And keep in mind, it’s about what you get out of the drone, not the drone itself. Start with the data. It’s easy to get distracted sometimes. Everybody thinks drones are cool and it gets people excited and it’s a great visual when you’re talking to people in meetings about it, but focus on the data. And you might also want to look at what your industry peers are doing with drones and bring that to their attention. And then, most of all, track those results so that when you have discussions about it, you can refer back to actual data, not data you think you’re going to get.

Then the second thing is to try and illustrate that path to getting that ROI. You’re going to calculate that ROI, but the stakeholders are going to want to know well, how long before we get there? What’s the up-front investment? What’s it going to take? Over what period of time to get those savings? And don’t just focus on dollar savings because things can be done faster, but keep in mind there’s other things that can be more intangible, like the increase in safety by not putting workers at risk, or even an enhancement of your reputation because you’re seen as an industry leader. And then create that plan and publicize it.

And then the third thing is really to network with those stakeholders. Don’t assume that those execs are going to welcome new technology and they’re going to clearly see the value. You might have to painstakingly spell it out for them. And provide visibility into your program. Take advantage of internal PR opportunities you have, internal websites or newsletters or the speaking slots and internal meetings so that you can highlight what your drone program is doing. Remember, the ultimate goal is to get funded. Convince the execs you’re worth the budget.

Isaac Bruns (8:56)

Thanks Mike. Those are some great tips. Now that we’ve talked about getting executive buy-in and having a proof of concept, let’s talk about mitigating risk and implementing safer operations. Safety isn’t all that exciting and it’s easy to overlook, but we’ve definitely seen safety concerns cause programs to fail. Bill, what can you tell us about the culture of safety that drone programs need to have in order to be successful?

Bill Stafford (9:28)

Yeah, of course Isaac. Like Mike said, one of the biggest concerns with senior leadership is going to be safety. They want you to identify risk, where does it lie. If you don’t do that and come with a plan and say, hey, these are where our risks to the program lie, you probably have a good chance of getting shut down early.

Programs that are often started early, they usually have people that are excited about drones for one reason or another. They’re willing to go out and get the certification, committed to using them the correct way, legally, and then they often have some type of experience in aviation, you know, like Mike has the private pilot license or they may even own their own drone or have their own drone company on the side and they see the applications in their organizations.

But what ends up happening is you have this core nucleus group, and then new pilots are added on. Those new pilots may not have the same respect and understanding of the rules and regulations that currently govern the UAS and the National Airspace and within an organization. Aviation is founded on a bedrock of safety and standardization. There’s a reason that we’re willing to jump on a commercial airplane that’s flying 500 miles an hour, five miles above the surface of the earth from Los Angeles to New York. A lot of us do it without even thinking about it, but there’s a lot of safety that goes into that — a lot of checks and balances. And part of that is the training and certification.

Any good program is going to have a good foundation of training. They’re going to go out and get the Part 107, but understanding that certification doesn’t necessarily equal qualification. Having the Part 107 means you’ve taken a test, you understand the airspace, the regulation and the operating rules, but you need to go out and test that in the field and get some training with somebody that will help you understand what are those pitfalls out there that aren’t necessarily covered in the letter of the law of the Part 107.

Also understanding airspace is a very, very complicated system. It works really well, but you need to understand where the UAS fall into that greater spot and then how do we access that airspace. Skyward’s Aviation Management Platform is one of those ways that we can go in, not only check the airspace, but then if you want to fly it in an area of controlled airspace, you can use that there.

And then what do you do after we’ve got that initial training and you got your software? Well, you need to continue to train. The one training event isn’t going to make you an excellent pilot. You’re going to have to go out and train individually and as an organization. Have safety stand downs where you talk about the accidents that almost happened, those close calls, the mistakes that were made. You really need to be very forthcoming to what mistakes were made because the mistake you made may be the mistake that somebody else was about to make, or they could learn from that and avoid that.

And then we want to make sure that everybody is up to date on their certifications. Again, when you have a small group of pilots, three to five people, it’s easy to look across the table and being like, “Hey, Mike, do you have your certification? Oh, you’re good.” But what you do when you expand to 10, 20, 40 pilots? It can get pretty complicated and you want to make sure you have some type of management system for that. That’s really where you want to go with those is understanding that you have a safe program, one that’s founded in training, and then continue to operate towards excellence.

Isaac Bruns (13:12)

Excellent. Thanks for those insights, Bill, and for our attendees, remember that you can feel free to drop questions in the Q&A box if you have questions for our panelists today.

So now I want to turn our attention to drone programs that are starting to grow and scale up. As difficult as building a program can be, growing and scaling brings a whole new set of challenges for companies to address. Programs that aren’t prepared may encounter some serious growth pains relating to standards, budgets, and managing personnel and assets.

Bill, you’ve helped companies across the country develop standard operating procedures and set up a framework for growth. What are some of the most important factors to consider when setting those program standards?

Bill Stafford (14:03)

Yeah, this goes along with what I said about safety. It’s a bad sign if your program standards are tribal knowledge and it’s not written down anywhere. Again, I’ll go back to my core group of three to five pilots where they agree they’re going to operate in some manner, they’re going to set rules for each other, but as a program scales that makes it very difficult to bring in a new pilot and teach them all the lessons that were learned that are just kind of common understanding.

The best way to promote this across your entire program is to establish standards that everyone in the program is required to follow. So, a standard operating procedure, an SOP. You want to include a couple things within that SOP. A general operation manual, your authoritative source for all things drone ops bring across your organization, and this is usually based on best practices in the aviation industry.

And then a set of standard operating procedures within that. This includes your normal day-to-day operations, but also what do you do when there’s an emergency? How will you respond when things go wrong? In the event, unlikely as it is, when an aircraft crashes, what are you going to do about it? As the pilot, as the project manager, as the leadership or a key stakeholder. They need to know what their responsibility is depending on what the severity is. And then what do we do with our aircraft as they age in a fleet? How do we retire them?

And then finally is a system of checklists. This checklist is really the bedrock of aviation. Everything in aviation is really grounded in a checklist. It allows for that standard operating procedure in a brief list that you can go through and make sure you’re hitting all those key items regardless of where you are in the phase of operation, whether it’s in your pre-planning or in the post in production.

And then standardizing your training procedures. How do you onboard pilots? How do you onboard aircraft? How do you retire your craft? And then as you’re creating this standard operating procedure, understand that you may not just want five to 10 pilots. Your organization may see a huge return on investment.

Let’s say we want to move this program into 10 to a hundred pilots. Well, is your SOP capable of scaling, or have you allowed enough room to grow in there? And that’s really going to save you lot of time and resources and help operate with consistency across a distributed team.

Isaac Bruns (16:38)

Thanks, Bill. For growing programs, those high program standards are definitely a must, so I appreciate that. On the flip side, Mike, you told me that one huge pitfall for scaling programs can be that it’s sometimes unclear who’s actually in charge. Can you tell us more about that and why that’s such a big issue?

Mike Danielak (17:01)

Sure, and as Bill said, a lot of these programs start small with a core group of people, and then it becomes a problem when they scale. And we see that often started with a drone evangelist, if you will. It’s somebody that’s knowledgeable, and they start the program, they grow to that core group that Bill was talking about, but then it continues to grow from there. And this whole drone thing is something extra that that original drone evangelist does in addition to their day job, their main role in their organization.

That’s fine when it’s only a few pilots and there’s not a lot of coordination, but as you said, as you add on those extra pilots, now you want to make sure that everybody’s flying the same way with the same procedures that Bill was talking about. They’re juggling their day job and then they’re starting to juggle this increasingly complex aviation program.

We all know that the drone space is rapidly evolving itself. You’re both from a technology perspective and a regulatory perspective. Now they need to keep up on that and try to communicate that out to a growing group of pilots. And it may not be clear who has the authority to set the standards and operating procedures. That initial drone evangelist could say, “Well, this is how I think we should do everything,” but the risk department and legal departments will want to weigh in, and it helps to have a formal program where you get all that cleared in advance.

In the end, I think executives need to identify who is going to lead the drone program and explicitly state that and make sure that there’s dedicated leadership there. Now maybe if you work for a big company, a lot of big companies have aviation departments they might use for executive travel. Or if aviation is part of the industry you’re in, that’s a natural place to go to. But if not, just make sure it’s clear who’s in charge of the program. In the end it’s going to save your program time and headaches.

Isaac Bruns (19:20)

Thanks Mike. That’s definitely a good tip — you’re certainly going to want to know who’s in charge of that program. Now as many of us know, there’s really no end to that growth phase. Drone operations will continue to scale and evolve over time. But maybe your drone program is already well established from operations to data. You’re ready for what comes next. It turns out many of our customers here at Skyward are interested in the advanced use cases that are coming today and tomorrow, the innovative operations that will really make drones worth the investment.

I want to open up our next poll question. In that poll window, let us know what advanced capabilities you are most interested in. You can choose operations beyond visual line of sight or advanced imaging and sensors such as LiDAR or infrared, cellular connected drones that can be flown over 4G LTE or 5G networks, analytics and artificial intelligence, or maybe something else entirely. If you want to add something to that list, let us know in the chat window we’d be interested.

It looks like a lot of our attendees today are really interested in the sensors and the imaging such as LiDAR and 3D and those kinds of things. Looks like about 75% of our attendees are interested in those. We also have a lot of attendees interested in beyond visual line of sight, which is definitely one of the big topics in the drone world right now and then definitely some as well interested in connected drones and some of those real time analytics. And I like seeing that chat window fill up with a whole bunch of new advanced operations.

So, as we see these advanced drone capabilities implemented, sometimes these changes just come too fast for existing data practices and standards. Mike, how can programs account for change management as they move toward advanced drone operations?

Mike Danielak (21:31)

Well, we’re still early in the drone industry. In fact, I mentioned my background is in wireless and mobility, and I think there’s a lot of parallels there. In the whole mobility world there’s this revolution where we’re able to provide better connectivity to field workers and provide access to data quicker, in different types of data that they didn’t have before, and the ability to collect data that they wouldn’t be able to collect, and do it in a faster way.

Well, there’s a big parallel there with drones because drones are changing the way we do business in the field, how we collect data and even just the volume of data. That volume of data tends to overwhelm existing systems, and so companies as they scale this up are going to put some thought into how they’re going to collect and save that data and how they’re going to process it. There’s different trade-offs you can do. Like you can apply some AI to it and only save the metadata that comes out of that so you’re not saving all the imagery, but don’t just collect data for data’s sake, because data that’s never processed is just wasted work and time.

Evaluate your systems, make sure they can handle that volume and that different type of data, and look at your workflow, right. As in the mobility world, with those new capabilities that gave you the opportunity to redesign the workflow in the field. Now that you have this new capability, what might you do differently so you’re not wasting time and truly leveraging these new capabilities. And then periodically go back and revisit your operating standards and keep those up to date so everybody’s doing things the same way. Always focus on that ROI and customer satisfaction from that initial deployment to the final deliverable, that data. So make sure your drone program is benefiting your company in practice not just in theory.

Isaac Bruns (23:42)

Those are some great tips, Mike, and since data is the main deliverable that a drone provides, it’s important to get that right. Today, one of the biggest obstacles to those advanced operations we’ve been talking about is just the state of the drone industry. Current regulations in the United States restrict or prohibit many innovative use cases for drones. These limitations can be difficult to work around and that’s why we recommend working with industry experts like Skyward to validate and expand your advanced use cases. Bill, can you tell us how partnering with an industry expert like Skyward can help support a drone program’s advanced operations?

Bill Stafford:

Yeah. As enterprises want to push the boundaries of what’s possible with the drones, this involves trying some new use cases or new and advanced use cases, and having support from a group of people that understand not only the regulatory side but some of the technical aspects that go into it and the safety, is really going to help speed up your process. It’ll also avoid some of the pitfalls that other organizations have gone through even ourselves.

Some of the most valuable cases are really going to extend beyond the current regulations. You can apply for waivers that’ll get you through these, making it possible to fly in these advanced cases. For example, regulations in the U.S. restrict flying beyond line of sight. Many of the operations that people are looking for, long linear inspections require this beyond visual line of sight application. Drone experts like Skyward can really help you get this waiver support and understand all of the steps in the process to get a waiver not only put together but apply for it, and eventually execute it.

Part of what the professional services team will do and one of our jobs is as companies move from that build to scale is we will go in, we’ll help you recognize not only the equipment you need, but training, then we also go in and say, if your company wants to fly in one of those nonstandard or waivered, we’ll help you move into that.

And then, once you’re beyond that, we can also add some of our other technologies that are out there. I won’t go too much in detail about what our Aviation Development Centers are working on currently, but there are some technical solutions out there above and beyond just what is in the regulatory current market.

Isaac Bruns (26:31)

Awesome. Thanks for letting us know about how a drone expert can help and what Skyward’s professional services team has to offer. As we’re coming toward the end of our main content for the webinar, I want to take a moment to talk about Skyward and what it is that we do. We’re more than just professional services and more than just a software company. Skyward helps companies and enterprises use drones to gather critical, actionable data quickly, safely and efficiently.

We’ve already talked about our suite of professional drone consultant services. With the current state of shutdown due to recent events, now could actually be a great time to build up your program standards while field work is on pause. It’s also a good chance to have pilots take an online course to prep for Part 107 certification if you’re in the United States.

Isaac Bruns:

In addition to those services, Skyward also offers an aviation management software platform which provides an airspace intelligence map for drones as well as nearly instant access to controlled airspace with LAANC, and a whole lot of other tools for planning operations, logging flights, operating in the field and managing personnel and aircraft.

Finally, Skyward conducts research and development for connected drones through our Aviation Development Centers that Bill was just talking about. As a Verizon company, we have access to the nation’s number one cellular network and we can work with our customers and partners to test and deploy connected drones over 4G LTE and 5G. Now while our Aviation Development Centers are closed today due to current circumstances, we would be happy to discuss strategic partnerships for enterprise connectivity in the future.

Before we start our live Q&A, I would like to launch one last poll. In the poll window, let us know if you’d like a virtual consultation to discuss program needs, obstacles and future plans with a Skyward business consultant. You can select all that apply. Our Aviation Management Platform, professional services and hardware procurement, Aviation Development Centers, and connected drones strategic partnerships, and we’ll be sure to reach out and get in contact with you.

And with that, that wraps up the main content of our webinar today. We’re going to open up the Q&A and answer some of those questions that we’ve received, and it looks like a lot of questions have come in and that’s great. You can feel free to keep adding to those.

I’d like to start with this first question that came in and I think I’ll send this one over to Bill and the question is, “How are you all creating your safety cultures?” So what are those things that go into a safety culture? Bill, can you speak toward that?

Bill Stafford (29:29)

Yeah, absolutely. When we talk about, I like to use the term aviation safety culture. I realize all organizations try to be safe, but aviation has created a process where we look at the operation holistically, right. So we identify risk. There’s always risk. If you’re going to take off any kind of aircraft, there’s a risk that it’s going to crash. That is just the nature of any timeline is that eventually there will be a crash, there’ll be some type of incident. But what do we do when we recognize that there is additional risk beyond just taking off? Let’s say the weather’s bad or we’re flying near people. How do we identify risk and then how do we mitigate it? Whether it’s through a technical solution, a procedural solution or a regulatory solution.

And then at the end of the day, when I talk about the culture of safety is a non-punitive culture. If somebody makes a mistake and they do something wrong and something bad happens, we need to identify how we got there. Was it because they were just hurrying through the checklist, or was it because they weren’t properly trained? And what that will identify is that nobody’s using the checklist. Well, that’s a retraining for the entire organization and somewhere there’s a break in that. And what we’re identifying is where the breaks occur, not necessarily what the end result is. Now again, if it’s the same person that continuously does that, it’s more of a behavioral issue, but typically that’s how we will drive down and find that issue and then continue to be safe is saying, “Hey, we don’t have the proper guardrails in place for this particular event, and how do we do that?”

If you don’t have an open safety culture, that will fall apart very quickly because people will be afraid to lose their jobs. They’ll be afraid to get in trouble, so that’s where you have to say, “You’re not going to get in trouble for making a mistake. We’re going to figure out why you made the mistake and how do we prevent it in the future.”

Isaac Bruns (31:32)

Thanks Bill. That’s great. I’ve got another question. I’ll send this one over to Mike and so this person says that they’re using drones mainly for preventative maintenance activities and so they’re asking, “What additional peripherals would you suggest will assist the program to yield the required results faster and effectively?” So what add-ons would you add to a drone?

Mike Danielak (31:59)

Well, drones are pretty great as is, right, for doing preventative maintenance and a lot of our customers are doing that. As I mentioned before, one thing that can be useful is some artificial intelligence and there’s other providers out there that can do it. In fact, we actually resell a couple AI solutions that can help identify or flag issues, either by themselves for like counting up issues, or flagging issue for review by human that could cut down — in doing so could cut down on the work for the humans and only call their attention to things that really need their attention and cut down on the required amount of storage.

And then also you might want to consider looking into live streaming. For example, let’s say you’re inspecting something and there’s some rust involved, and your company has a corrosion expert, but they’re not on site with a pilot, they could be looking and stream that to wherever that expert is. And you’re going to see these types of use cases really expand as we expand the capabilities of connected drones to be able to go to 5G. We’re going to get higher resolution and ability to get the data much more easily off the drone.

Isaac Bruns (33:21)

That’s great. Thanks Mike. We’ve had another question come in that asked, “Does Skyward have templates or outlines for standard operating procedures or SOPs so that in the planning process items are not missed and the wheel is not totally being reinvented.”

I can go ahead and speak toward that. Yes, Skyward has some templates and some resources for general operating manuals and standard operating procedures through our Take Flight Package, and you can see information about that on the Skyward.io website, and if you want to reach out to contact@skyward.io we would be very happy to send you more information and a sample of that Take Flight Package and some of those templates for that.

All right, here’s another question coming in. I’ll send it over to Bill again. This question is, “What kind of industry-specific training does Skyward offer?” Bill, can you speak toward that?

Bill Stafford (34:31)

Well, currently we are offering, on the professional services side, we’re looking at expanding out. Obviously we have our Quick-Start Program, which basically brings in our newest, a core group of pilots. So say you’re in that three to 10 and you want to establish a program. We can come in with our Quick-Start Package. Now that covers kind of an A-to-Z solution, not only where we get the Part 107 stood up. We’ll also get you an onsite training. We’ll help you pick out the correct hardware, whether you need just some small simple aircraft like a Mavic or something on a more complex scale for different types of mapping.

And then following that we’re going to follow up and make sure that you guys are ready and trained. We can help audit your programs. So we’ll come back and say, maybe in six months, look at your program, see where it’s at. We are also offering courses in photogrammetry, and that’s probably our biggest one right now that we’re pushing out very, very soon to help companies with deciding what photogrammic process they are trying to take on.

And additionally we’re willing to work with customers on an individual basis. There may be a specific use case. Obviously we work for Verizon so vertical infrastructure. We have a entire program developed for our Verizon engineers to teach them how to use a UAV to inspect a tower but you may have something that is comparable to that and that’s what our team of experts will really do is come out and look at what your specific case is and then help you develop a training program around that.

We found that it’s much easier to take somebody that’s an engineer in a specific field and train them how to use a drone rather than taking somebody like myself who’s a drone pilot at trade and then teaching me how to be an engineer.

Isaac Bruns (36:40)

That’s great, thanks Bill. Another question that came in addressing one of the topics we briefly touched on — I’ll send this over toward Mike — is, how difficult in terms of time and money is getting a beyond visual line of sight waiver or a BVLOS waiver? Mike, could you tell us a little bit about that?

Mike Danielak (37:02)

Sure. That’s on the top of everybody’s mind. It’s what a lot of us are trying to get to, and really it could be the topic of its own webinar and more than that. Suffice it to say that almost all the BVLOS waivers granted to date by the FAA still require visual observers and there’s different approaches to doing that. But you have to coordinate those visual observers. They have to have the drone in sight or they have to be able to look for intruding aircraft. But just to try and keep this answer brief, what I would say is it is expensive and somewhat difficult because you have to prove to the FAA that you can operate safely, and FAA is going to not only look at the mitigations you put in place to do this, but they’re going to look at how you manage your overall program.

Do you have those operating procedures? Do you have the organization and the structure in place and that you have a real aviation program, and as Bill said, do you have that culture of safety? Do you take internal feedback and learn from any mistakes and apply that. They actually take that into consideration when they grant those waivers. It is still fairly involved at this point and we’re hoping that that gets easier over time as they put more rules and processes in place.

Isaac Bruns (38:38)

That’s great. Thanks Mike. We’re almost out of time. I’ll just add in one more question here and then we will start to wrap up. Please remember that we will be sending out responses to the top questions that were asked here in our followup materials. But for our last live question, I will send this over to Bill, and one of our attendees is asking, “Is there a training time requirement for hours spent flying a UAS or a drone prior to licensing?” And maybe Bill you can talk a little bit about what it takes to get that Part 107 licensing.

Bill Stafford (39:19)

The short answer is no. You can actually take the test, you can go sign up for the test right now. Go take the test and pass it and you will be a remote pilot with a Part 107 certification from the FAA. However, that is just, like we talked about at the very beginning of the webinar, having a certification doesn’t equal qualification. It’s a common question: what is the hour level where you start to feel comfortable? And aviation is an experience-based field. So just having the certification in hand gives you kind of that license to learn.

It’s all based, I always teach people that your personal level of comfort should be your first limit, right. It shouldn’t be what the aircraft’s capable of, what the regulations allow for you. It should say, what am I personally comfortable with flying? And maybe that’s flying in the middle of the afternoon in a very open space and only flying so fast. A lot of the aircraft actually have physical controls on it. And then as you grow that comfort level, you can move into more complex operations.

I think if the first time you’re standing up your company and you’re saying, I want to go beyond visual line of sight, you’re probably setting yourself up for failure. And that’s where experience is very hard to say like at 50 hours, you’re a great pilot and at 49 hours you’re not. It is all based on what kind of flying you’ve done, the types of aircraft you’re using. 50 hours in a small Cessna airplane does not make you qualify to fly a 747 over the ocean.

There’s a lot of gray area in there, but again, to answer your question shortly: there’s no hour requirement, but I would heavily suggest that you go out, gain experience with your aircraft and give yourself some controls. Fly in an area where there’s nobody near you where you feel very comfortable and then I think we all kind of have that natural inclination to realize when we’re in a little bit of an uncomfortable situation and that’s your brain saying, “Hey, we’re beyond what I’m comfortable with.” You should listen to it. That gut instinct is pretty strong sometimes.

Yeah. There’s a lot to go with expertise, but your hour level as it grows, you’ll see. And the last thing I’ll leave with that is flying for an hour and with no purpose doesn’t equal flying an hour going out and saying I’m going to go do the following six tasks. They are not a one for one. Make sure that when you’re doing your training there’s a meaning and purpose behind it.

Isaac Bruns (42:09)

Thanks Bill. That was great. That does bring us to the end of our webinar time. Thank you to all our attendees for all of these great questions. There’s a lot of them and they are excellent. If you’re willing to stick around, we may be able to answer some of them in the chat box within the Q&A, but we are going to sign off for today. Thank you very much for joining us and as a reminder, we will be sending out a recording of this webinar and the slides to everyone who registered. As we like to say around here onward, upward, Skyward.