UAV Drone Programs

Increasing Safety and Efficiency for Businesses

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Utilizing drone training programs at Flex Air Aviation has been an exciting new opportunity for us to share this emerging technology and exciting career field with our customers. While this is a great opportunity we offer to our clients, it does come with some unique challenges related to building a drone program. Commercial UAV News talked about what creating a drone program looks like and some of the particular challenges.
UAV is an acronym for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

There are many regulations related to the use of drones. Going through these regulations is important for operators of drones and organizations like ours that have drone training programs. Utility companies are one area of interest that has been dealing with public concerns over privacy issues because of the utility companies use of drones. Putting into place drone programs can be tricky because of concerns the public has, as well as the company’s concerns over creating a strong Return on Investment. (ROI).

Commercial UAV News reported on how organizations such as San Diego Gas and Electric have been putting together public awareness campaigns related to drones. This company is on the forefront of addressing the public’s concerns and raising awareness about how drone technology can increase safety and efficiency. San Diego Gas and Electric, and other companies similar in nature, are using their efforts and applying them to how they scale and automate their drone program.

What Goes Into Building a Drone Program?

San Diego Gas and Electric began utilizing their drone program through the guidance of Andrew Krawczel, who is an Aviation Services Manager at the company. He was once in the Marines and learned about drones and their ability to be used in many situations because of their sensors while there. Their technology allows them to be used for many different things such as viewing and checking equipment in hard to reach places. He joined the company to help them make their drone program fully operational.

He said, “Buy-in at the senior level is what really kept it on track. We are fortunate to have a VP that’s dedicated to the effort, understands the value proposition of the technology and has been an invaluable resource in terms of guiding the program to success. We’ve also had a small but very dedicated staff, and that’s been a critical aspect of continuing to innovate and develop use causes.”

With Krawczel’s help, San Diego Gas and Electric was able to figure out how to develop uses for drones in a way that would work with their company. They have focused on how to make current regulations work in their favor and to figure out ways to work within the confines of the regulations instead of fighting against them. Along with knowing and utilizing current regulations, they have also developed a safety management system that is similar to those used for manned aviation. And, they have structured a training program inside their company.

The company’s overall goal is safety. Krawczel also had this to say, “You look at our program and it’s really based off of doing it as safe as possible. That’s why we’ve used the FAA’s [Federal Aviation Administration] Safety Management System framework and adjusted it to where it accommodates UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems], but that’s really something we have to do as a utility company, which is in the public’s eye. We have to make sure we’re doing it right and that we have controls in place. It’s still aviation.”

Public Awareness of the Program

With new regulation called Part 107, San Diego Gas and Electric has been able to use their drone program in new and bigger ways. The Part 107 current regulation has changed from the Section 333 Exemption the company was under previously. Now, they are able to provide the oversight for the program without having to supply the pilots and the drones, too.

Krawczel was looking for the UAS program to be a safety success. The drones enable San Diego Gas and Electric to complete tasks in a few minutes that would take hours using traditional methods. Those other methods involve human beings being up on tall structures. So, with the drone technology, the workers can stay on the ground and be safer and work more efficiently.

The public also stands to gain with drone programs being utilized by utility companies. By increasing efficiency, drones could reduce monthly bills. Conveying these benefits to the public has also been an important part of Krawczel’s work.

He said, “We’ve had to be prudent in terms of how we discuss the program with the public and then also how we engage the public when we’re out flying. For just about 100% of our flights, we end up interacting with the public in some capacity, whether that’s a positive one or one where people might be asking some pointed questions that deal with privacy concerns. By explaining what we’re doing with the drone, members of the public are much more likely to quickly unwind and relax and understand that what we’re doing is in the spirit of doing things safer and more efficient as a utility.”

Using Drones in the Future

As employees of companies like San Diego Gas and Electric are able to train to fly drones, the effectivity of these programs in different fields can increase.
Krawczel argues that, “The goal of a UAS program shouldn’t be to fly drones for the sake of flying drones. The goal should be leveraging the technology to create a value proposition by replacing an existing work method with either a safer or more efficient UAS flight.”
As San Diego Gas and Electric continues to improve upon their drone program, they are also looking to the future. They are continually aware and on top of changing regulations. Also, they are starting to work with autonomous flights and BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight operation) flights. Krawczel also mentioned the company’s commitment to learning about the processing capabilities of drones and how advancements in technology make these capabilities more automated.

Thinking Ahead

San Diego Gas and Electric was able to have their drone program become a success by keeping on top of regulations and looking to the future. They worked under the Section 333 Exemption while learning and beginning to think about how to incorporate the new Part 107 regulation as it was passed.
Krawczel has this to say about utility companies looking to utilize drone programs, “For utilities, you need to make sure you have the right controls in place. Have the right oversight. Leverage the expertise of some local service providers. First develop a value thesis and then verify it with pilot programs utilizing service providers. After you’ve done that, you can make a decision about what should come in-house and how to scale the program.”
It is also essential for companies to focus on public awareness campaigns about how drones are being used. This will keep the public in the loop and reduce backlash due to misunderstanding. Companies like San Diego Gas and Electric are solving public question problems and regulatory issues. They are showing how drones can be used to create safer and more efficient workplaces.
Flex Air offers drone training programs that can be great opportunities for those looking to make a start in this emerging field. With our training under your belt, it is easy to make a career as a drone pilot with companies like San Diego Gas and Electric or some of the many other fields and companies who are using this exciting technology.