Drones: How to Prepare for Unmanned Aircraft Operations

Author By Shannon Rupe

Does your company plan to use drone technology in the near future?

If so, as a business aviation leader, you may be regarded as a knowledgeable source for possibly introducing drones or “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) into the business model.

While business aircraft primarily facilitate executive passenger transportation, there are segments of the industry that utilize drones for non-passenger airlift over short distances. These operations often rely on UAV aircraft for observation and data gathering in remote locales.
So just how might a corporate flight department go from managing large, multi-million-dollar aircraft assets—and the humans that fly and operate them—to managing UAVs?

Drone Use on the Rise

The use of drones has grown exponentially in recent years. Applications for these unmanned aircraft seem endless: everything from construction progress photos, videography for insurance claims, real estate listings, property assessments, agriculture surveys and hundreds more.
The drone industry predicts unmanned aircraft will soon be used for medicine and grocery delivery, and even for short-haul passenger transport.

Part of the rationale for their surging popularity is that drones are inexpensive to operate and easy to use. They are effective in replacing humans doing high-risk tasks and they increase efficiency and safety.
For example, roof inspection firms typically require two people, a set of ladders and safety riggings to do their work. And energy companies often need to send personnel to remote destinations in harsh and potentially dangerous environments to inspect mechanical equipment. For companies like these that require frequent high-risk tasks, unmanned aircraft offer an attractive solution.

Six Opportunities Made Possible by Drones

It’s a fact that the technological capabilities of unmanned aircraft are advancing rapidly and will influence how companies sell and deliver products.

It’s not a matter of IF drone use will expand, but WHEN. Here are six opportunities made possible by introducing drones into the business model.

  1. Retail businesses may introduce drones into the supply chain. Transporting goods from warehouses to store fronts, or even possibly from production lines straight to the consumers.
  2. Banks and financial institutions may use drones to expedite replacement credit cards to a customer who is stranded after theirs was lost or stolen.
  3. Construction companies use drones to fly repeatable flight paths for capturing pictures and video used in overlays that illustrate visual job site progress reports.
  4. Law enforcement agencies use drones to track illegal fishing and hunting in protected areas, or even to track suspected criminals in manhunts.
  5. Emergency response agencies use drones to assess damage-ravaged areas and identify safety issues before sending rescuers into potentially dangerous territory.
  6. Energy companies use drones to inspect pipelines, transmission lines and power stations.
Unmanned Aircraft Airspace

Today, drones operate in Class G, uncontrolled airspace—below 400 feet and within visual line of sight of a remote pilot. Drones may operate in other airspace with Air Traffic Control (ATC) approval by calling the controlling agency, essentially the same requirements applicable to the airspace: two-way radio communications in Class C airspace, for example.
The FAA and NASA have divisions tasked with assessing further drone integration into the national airspace system.

The FAA has introduced Low Altitude Authorization and Notification, or LAANC (pronounced “lance”). LAANC will integrate drone use into the national airspace system by offering real-time, automated authorizations for drones to operate in controlled airspace. A beta test is being deployed regionally across the U.S. now through September 2018.

Simultaneously, unmanned aircraft advocates are lobbying strongly for legislation that will enable them to operate beyond the visual line of sight.
And, to help further advance drone use, major aircraft and engine manufacturers have joined with technology companies to study ways of increasing the predictability of operating unmanned aircraft beyond visual lines of sight.

Drone Versatility

For corporate flight departments and companies that currently make use of business aircraft for data collection or inspections, drones can be adapted with many different types of hardware that are mission-specific.
And they can do so at a fraction of the cost of owning and operating an airplane or helicopter. According to DroneDeploy’s May 2018 Commercial Trends Report, 90 percent of commercial drone mapping completed in 2017 was done so on drone hardware costing $1,500 or less.

On the more technical front, variations in onboard payloads, including sensors and data collection tools, can be interchanged across drone platforms. With drones, hardware configuration ranges are vast and can be tailored to a specific flight’s objective. They are capable of gathering data from a series of onboard sensors: video, photo, heat sensors, LIDAR (Laser Imaging, Detection and Ranging), barometers, sonar, chronometers, infrared sensors, thermal cameras, spectrometers and gyroscopes. Onboard drone software is similar to GPS and autopilot programming.

Data collection possibilities and programming simplicity means unmanned aircraft reduce expert personnel time to critical duties on the ground and reduce operation expense.

Unmanned Aircraft Thought Leader

Again, as an aviation leader, you should consider what possible recommendations you would make to your company regarding the implementation of drone operations.

The company may deem it likely for you to own responsibility of the unmanned aircraft branch of the business.

The good news is that, in many ways, institutionalizing drone operations is similar to operationalizing aircraft. You’ll oversee each flight or “mission,” including the business aircraft-familiar maintenance checks, flight planning, pre-flight and post-flight checklists, ATC notification and flight logging.

While day-to-day business aircraft and drone operations may indeed be similar in many regards, certain things may be outside of the corporate flight department’s expertise. That is, the knowledge of the hardware and software technology that provides the best fit for the kind of missions your company engages.

Many successful drone operations occurring within a corporate flight department weren’t initiated there. Keep in mind that promoting the building of an unmanned aircraft division within an existing corporate flight department requires someone to be a subject matter expert. He or she must know the hardware, software and platforms necessary to execute drone missions day-to-day.

It’s not likely someone in the flight department will already be versed in these topics. Instead, outsourced or contracted drone experts can be brought in for the implementation.

The bottom line is that, as an aviation leader, you should make yourself a knowledgeable resource on unmanned aircraft operations. That way, if and when the enterprise explores the possibility of introducing unmanned aircraft into the business model, you’ll be ready.


At Gray Stone Advisors, we’re here to help you explore your flight department’s involvement in unmanned aircraft operations.

Please Contact Us or call 1-865-357-5077 to learn how we may be able to assist you.