Drone Training – The Beginning or the End? Part 5

Autonomy and Manufacturers

Over the last four articles on drone training, we have looked at the background of drone training to the present day, have considered the changing face of regulation and technology into redefining what a drone pilot will be, and have considered whether the existing approach taken by standards and associations is the correct one to enable the market further.

In this final article we look at manufacturers and their approach to training, alongside a final summary.

Preparing for an Autonomous Future

Not many in the industry have yet come to terms with how an autonomous future will manifest itself in future years.  Will industries remain within their market sector? Will certain contractors be looking to provide both aspects of the autonomous service, namely the data output alongside the drone service itself?  As confidence in drone technology increases, will companies and organisations also become emboldened to go bigger, faster, larger and compete with existing operators in different spheres of influence?  Finally, how do you deliver training, software, and consultancy in such a disruptive, technological market?

Manufacturers and Their Training Needs

Let us finally consider the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).  If you look at existing aviation markets for guidance Airbus and Boeing do not deliver training to pilots, instead, they outsource to training organisations. They concentrate on making the best airframes possible and leave other aspects of the industry, such as flight planning software, to specialist technology providers or a dedicated in-house team.

The current situation in the drone industry, on the other hand, is highly fragmented and remains largely insular, with many companies providing mission planning and training to its clients.  Many of the small OEMs harbour ambitions to take a greater share of the market and therefore they consider their own airframe so unique that the notion of a common course, across multiple manufacturers, would be impossible to deliver.

As the OEM market matures and manufacturers consolidate into established brand names will the existing aviation-based model follow suit within the drone industry?  It is hard to imagine at the larger scale this will not happen. To survive in an evolving market, manufacturers should recognise that their airframes must become interoperable with mission planning software and flight data that would be obtained from their missions.  

Manufacturers would need to have a clearly defined set of protocols and standards so that any organisation can buy the best drone features, without being lumbered with/disinterested by the software that is included with it. This will allow manufacturers to concentrate on what they do best and focus on aspects such as airworthiness, component origin, and manufacturing quality.

For example, the ROI and time taken to align a fleet of operators, and undertake a separate training course, would all need to be taken into consideration if moving from one drone company to another where the manufacturers’ software are incompatible with each other.  This situation could be construed as advantageous to the incumbent, but by the same token it would complicate the decision-making process for someone looking to move airframes and could steer a prospective client away from a simple choice based on the airframe and the features therein.

Therefore, training on any manufacturers’ drones should be conducted independently.  In addition, what needs to be recognised is that for any operation there are many subjects as alluded to in previous articles where if the systems operator function will be the key role of a pilot moving forwards – there could exist several common modules which could be taught within a generic course.

To conclude with a manned aviation analogy; the Airline Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL) and subsequent Type Rating for a commercial airline position are often conducted by the same company.  What is of note is that this training should be conducted from the perspective of a systems integrator and with airmanship in mind, rather than from a physical flight control perspective.

Overall Summary

Drone training as it is now will not exist for much longer due to a combination of regulatory requirements, technology and the need for organisations to demonstrate conformance to stakeholders.  The demands placed on organisations to mitigate the risk, as well as keeping to the safety standards that clients will expect, will force drone training to change.

Standards bodies and associations are setting expectations for drone operators to meet criteria that result in neither an ROI nor will they be achievable for a few selected companies that will look to employ specialist pilots in niche industries and environments.

Existing training organisations in the move to a fully-automated landscape must be embedded and integrated with software and consultancy for the organisation and its clients at all levels to get buy-in, from early adopter to the operators on the ground themselves, and possibly an understanding of where data fits into that.  In a business transformation environment, nothing else will do. This need to be done in conjunction with manufacturers forming a common entry point for a generic course that will serve operators and clients better in the transition to a BVLoS and autonomous future.

Consortiq are a UK National Qualified Entity (NQE) and the training lead on the USA AUVSI Trusted Operator Program (TOP) Committee, alongside their CQNet software and consultancy services.  If you would like to explore what they can offer to your organization, email: [email protected]

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