News from Steve Flynn, CEO, Skytango. Edition: January 2019

Welcome to 2019!

We’re almost to the end of January and so far we’ve seen airports shut down, governments shut down (and reopen) and Prime Ministers voted down. What will February bring?

It’s been a while since we sent out our last newsletter. There have been so many changes here at Skytango and tremendous change in the industry as a whole over the last year. I thought I’d ramp up again with more commentary than news, and I also wanted to send out our much anticipated annual list of top commercial drone events.

Gatwick To Newark

Gatwick, Heathrow, and Newark – unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you’ve probably read about the drone disruptions at Gatwick, Heathrow and Newark airports over the last month.  I found the confusion around the events at Gatwick in particular, really interesting. They first arrested a couple but subsequently cleared them. There was confusion as to whether some sightings were actually police drones.  Some speculated that the reason for the extended airport closure was down to the police trying out their counter UAS procedures to see if they worked. It’s all, well, clear as mud. But two things are certain – the financial fallout was significant (£50m at last count) and communication channels around these sites must be improved and measures put in place.

It’s no surprise that these events precipitated a steady stream of meetings of airport authorities around the globe, searching for solutions and creating task forces in an effort to get out in front of the problem, although to some extent, the horse has already bolted. A £50m investment in the drone space would have been preferable when you consider the number of innovative startups crying out for seed and follow on funding.  Personally, I’m a little skeptical that counter UAS tech alone will be a panacea for this.  I look at computer hackers who always seem to be one step ahead of those seeking to prevent malicious computer code.  While I commend manufacturers for the steps they are taking, to deny every type of drone will be very difficult when I hear of 17 year-olds 3D printing drones for class projects.

I’m very keen to promote a balanced view of combining counter UAS tech with systems to involve and engage the communities where drones fly.  For me, it has made me redouble my efforts to promote ecosystems (not least of all my own) for commercial operators that engage communities so that trust is built up over time, with operators who perform responsibly and legally and I nod here to Elaine Whyte of PWC who echoed these sentiments at her recent Palace of Westminster address – ‘its imperative we build societal trust in this technology’.

I found myself on the Irish national news recently being asked about why enforcement is so tricky. There is definitely an uptick in the search for answers on how to integrate drones with all their risk and promise.  A great opportunity for us all to help shape how the industry fits within communities.

Solo Vs. Team

From rogue operators to organized teams – I have recently heard industry thought leaders espouse the idea that we are witnessing the demise of the indi pilot.  I disagree.  I don’t think that it’s time to write that epitaph. At least not yet.  Yes, there is a definite rise in the ‘in-house’ team, but I still believe there will always be a place for the solo operator, even with the advent of UTM and autonomy.  I’ve started a discussion on this over on the UAV Coach forum if you want to join the conversation and express your opinions.  As an indi pilot myself, I’ve seen some drop off in calls from larger corporations, but at the same time, I’ve gotten some new bookings from smaller companies that have neither the time, the energy nor the budget to invest in drones, and I don’t see the media space changing all that much either.

It is my history in the media industry (my first job at a local cable network was in 1984 at the tender age of 17) that informs my opinion as I saw a similar pattern there.  Young production companies starting out went to the larger players to shoot/edit and mix their broadcast projects. As they grew, they took all that work ‘in house’ and themselves became big players. But advances in technology forced a change in the model. As prosumer technology advanced and became affordable – there was an influx of ‘shooters’ and ‘editors’ ready to work for less. Production budgets shrank and it wasn’t viable to invest in staff on payroll or equipment, or even upkeep what was there anymore. Bottom lines improved when production was outsourced, and the freelance community was born.

In the last 20 years, within media, we have seen a strong mix of ‘staff’ and ‘contractors’ working to give flexibility and efficiency.

The drone industry may be in the middle of making a ‘market sandwich’.  The first layer was companies outsourcing drone ops to test the market and let the tech mature.  Now we are entering the middle phase, bringing the tech in-house, and my prediction is there will be some kind of swing back to a place where both ‘in’ and ‘out of house’ drone services are utilized and there are some industries where indi pilots may always be preferred  – media being one of them!

New Software Release

While we’ve been quiet over the last year on the newsletter front, we’ve been busy with our software development – iterating and improving the Skytango platform. Last Summer we built the Skytango App (on Android and IOS), we embarked on a government project to map litter from the air, we produced the first autonomous parcel delivery in Ireland and we built our TangoTools™ first tool to tango, which features a ‘live map’ facility and downloadable widget. If you have the time, take a minute to look at the video. It explains it quicker than I could write about it.  Our Holiday Discount ends on January 31st.
Sign up to get a 20% discount on your annual membership.

Support For Teams at Skytango

In an effort to cater for those who prefer the ‘in house’ approach, we just launched team support within the Skytango platform.  Our work with some large construction clients made it clear they wanted the ability to work with their ‘in house’ teams, but they also liked the idea that they could easily reach out to indi pilots for overflow work at the same time via Skytango and have everybody operating from the same rulebook.  Drop us a note at enterprise@skytango.com if you have an interest in hearing more about our enterprise model or read more here.

Partnership Announcement

Skytango-Women-and- Drones
This week also saw us launch our partnership with Women And Drones. We are offering a rolling discount to their network of female pilots. There are still so few women in this industry and our goal is to help grow those numbers and support female drone pilots as best we can.
Well, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time, so thanks for reading and as ever, safe flying.
Steve
Steve Flynn is an Emmy Award Winning Director of Photography, Editor, Producer, a commercial drone pilot and Founder/CEO of Skytango.com.