Why Aviation Expertise Matters in the Drone Space
Part 107 has not provided an enormous barrier to entry. Equipment remains inexpensive. Sensor technology is accessible, and user interfaces are becoming easier to navigate by the day. The conditions are set for just about anyone to call themselves a professional drone operator with the most modest of investments. So why would anyone want to source expensive manned aviation expertise for their drone program? Organizations looking to make the transition into unmanned operations effectively should carefully consider the qualifications and experience when sourcing a drone partner. Below I discuss what factors enterprise organizations should be thinking about as they consider sourcing a professional drone partner.
It is easy to be good enough in the drone business; it is very hard to be very good.
There are skills fundamental to manned aviation that are a difference maker in the unmanned airspace.
- Mission Planning
- Record Keeping
- Airspace Management
Enterprises looking to employ drones in their daily operations have two options: either insource the capability or outsource to a drone professional. Both options have their pros and cons. Insourcing comes with the apparent manpower and training problems that many companies are not eager to take on. Outsourcing often presents a more comfortable starting point for an adoption phase. From our experience, most companies will end up with a hybrid model. A baseline capability can be insourced and more specialized or higher volume work outsourced. In either case, sourcing aviation expertise will ensure a successful operation.
The more complex your operation, the more critical this skill set will become. Mission planning from a finite individual flight level is of course essential, but mission planning at a more macro level is equally valuable. Manned aviators, particularly military aviators, are well trained in mission planning. Focusing on a specific objective and back planning from the desired end-state. Understanding how multiple factors work together to contribute to the success (or failure) of a plan. This skill set transfers well into the drone space where there are often multiple competing interests at play with any given flight. Batteries, airspace, sensors, customers, obstacles and other aircraft can be a lot to juggle.
Meticulous log books are a sure sign of a professional aviator, something drilled into every manned aviator. Your drone operation should follow suit. Keeping detailed records of both your personnel and your equipment is absolutely key to making it in the unmanned space. From those records, you can tease out utilization rates, pilot currencies, and proficiencies as well as battery life expectancy. If you know your batteries should last a specific number of cycles, keeping a count of how often you are using them makes a great deal of sense.
Similar to mission planning, airmanship will become a more critical factor as operations become more complex. Airmanship is traditionally thought of as the physical act of piloting an aircraft, the stick, and rudder stuff. While modern avionics, especially in the unmanned space largely mitigate a good deal of this requirement, there are other elements of airmanship that are equally important. For instance, a quick and thorough scan. A pilot, manned or unmanned, must have an ability to rapidly consume a significant amount of information, make decisions and quickly and effectively execute.
Airspace is probably one of the more complicated aspects to deal with in the unmanned space. Manned aviators are well practiced at integrating into the national airspace system and have a practical, working knowledge that would be hard for pure unmanned aviators to compete with.