When you think of drones, you probably picture a father and son in your neighborhood playing with an off-the-shelf flying robot buzzing local backyards. Or perhaps you’re thinking about the future of package delivery in which trucks are replaced by pre-programmed airborne visits to your doorstep.
Those are certainly among the many uses of drones, but not nearly the most important or practical. Employing drones is becoming an increasingly critical element of many business operations, particularly in the areas of construction, mining, agriculture, science, cinematography and infrastructure inspection. However, most businesses do not understand the potential pitfalls of operating their own drone or hiring a professional service provider.
The key to the successful and responsible use of drones in business, says Jason McNally, Director of Business Development for AUV Flight Services in Tucson, is to employ experienced, licensed, FAA-certified operators as well as application-specific technology.
“This is not a one-size-fits all industry. Technology and operational training varies depending on the application,” explains McNally.
Below is a glimpse of the burgeoning array of practical uses for drones.
- A bird’s eye view. Anytime a business needs to view its operation from above, a drone can accomplish the task easily and inexpensively, in most cases.
- To conduct inspections. A drone can shoot video where humans dare not set foot (or fly), such as above fires, floods or around towering structures like smokestacks or transmission lines. With the ability to lower risk while making inspection areas more accessible, drones are a smart solution for most industrial inspections.
- Provide progress updates. A drone can provide an overhead view of an entire construction project. Aerial information provides additional situational awareness for designers, engineers and supervisors, allowing changes to be made in real-time. AUV augments simple photography with image mosaics, 3D models and virtual fly-throughs.
- To collect data and measure the state of our planet. AUV has applied drone technology to scientific endeavors including atmospheric studies in the Maldives islands and Svalbard, Norway for SCRIPPS and NOAA. Armed with multiple sensors, large drones become a laboratory in the sky by providing a cost-effective means to gather air samples or other data.
- To record beautiful cinematography. Video production studios have known for years that drones are a cost-effective way to shoot scenes from above. More specifically drones allow directors to transition from up-close action shots to soaring landscape scenes without interruption. This technology thankfully isn’t just limited to feature-film directors – marketing folks will enjoy this too! Visualize how your new construction project will look from the street-view and from the 25th floor of the building across the street.
- And yes, for delivery – eventually. Although definitely not practical in all cases, and not yet legalized across-the-board by the FAA, there are use-cases that make sense for the future.
“Delivery of critical medical supplies to remote locations is definitely in the works with several companies as are delivery of small, time-sensitive components for factories located in rural or isolated areas. Although the technology exists to complete the work in these cases, the regulations have not caught up yet – at least in the U.S.” says McNally.
AUV recently flew a 97-mile proof-of-concept flight to demonstrate feasibility of commercial drone delivery.
Interested in using a drone for your business? Here’s what to look for when employing a drone service provider.
- Pilot certifications and experience. A drone crash can cause expensive damage, both on the vehicle and on the ground, potentially leading to legal issues. Make sure that the drone pilot has FAA certification at minimum and has an extensive resume of operations or a logbook to prove experience. All of AUV’s pilots are FAA certified and have extensive UAV experience across a wide-range of aircraft platforms. AUV routinely hires drone pilots that have manned aircraft ratings as well.
- Proof of insurance. Liability is a top concern when considering drone use for commercial purposes. Does your drone service provider carry insurance? Does your company require a specific level of insurance? Make sure proof of insurance is provided prior to any operation.
- Airspace approval. A drone being flown inappropriately recently closed down Gatwick Airport in London and forced planes to divert to other airports. Knowing where a drone shouldn’t fly is an important part of operating one.
Understand that if you request a drone flight near an airport you’ll be waiting a significant amount of time for approval from the FAA – up to 90 days. In some cases, drones may not be flown near certain airports – or above people. AUV Flight Services uses manned aircraft to cover customer requested operations in such locations. By employing a small manned aircraft with camera holes or wing-mounted pods, AUV can complete work where most drone service providers cannot.
- Scalability. Is your company ready to employ a large number of drones across your service territory? If so, you’ll need to make sure your drone service provider is capable of growing operations at your pace. Keep in mind that a small service provider may not have the capital required to purchase enough equipment or fund enough personnel to support fast-growing operations.
AUV is a self-funded, profitable company with over 6 years in the UAS industry. They receive no venture-capitalist funding and are not “propped-up” by such investments. “However, we’ve successfully funded multiple national and international operations to support customer growth in expanding regions – and continue to do so,” says McNally.
- Safety and risks. Any drone operation has the potential for safety-related issues such as lacerations from propellers, burns from motors/engines, crashes etc. The safety risk grows exponentially with the number of drone operations. Make sure your service provider is capturing these risks and constantly updating procedures to mitigate these risks.
- Up-to-date technology. Advances in sensor and aircraft capability are rapid in the drone industry. Make sure that your drone service provider invests in new technology or explores the market to determine what is the best solution for your company. Not all technology is ready – in fact there are a lot of companies that boast great capabilities but cannot deliver on their promises. Your drone service provider should be able to “filter” through these vendors to leave you with the best options.
AUV regularly invests in new technology in sensors and aircraft. Their employees are experts in developing an airborne platform for any customer requirement.
Does your company need long-range operations? Then there’s a good chance you’ll need a service provider that flies something other than those off-the-shelf multi-rotor aircraft. AUV pilots routinely fly long-range missions domestically and overseas, flying large, fixed-wing and hybrid aircraft.
- Spare drones. If your service provider doesn’t show up to the job site with multiple aircraft, you should be expecting some canceled operations in the future. Equipment failures and crashes are not uncommon in the drone industry, so make sure that your company isn’t paying someone to “sit around” due to lack of planning.
“’One is none.’ That’s a phrase we live by at AUV – we’ll always have spare aircraft, ground stations and support equipment at every operational location,” says McNally.
At AUV Flight Services, your drone pilot is always experienced, licensed and FAA-certified. In fact, it’s likely he has other manned flight ratings as well. To supplement drone operations, AUV operates a fleet of manned flight vehicles that can cover some of the gaps in drone service. When you engage AUV Flight Services, you’re working with an international company with 40+ employees and a record of supporting large, risk-averse companies.
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