Remote ID and connected drones are critical pieces to realizing the full potential of the drone industry – but the framework must be built to optimize functionality and safety and minimize complexity.
Following the company’s selection to help the FAA develop a framework for Remote ID, we caught up with Skyward President Mariah Scott to hear about the newest addition to the Skyward Aviation Management Platform, as well as ways the company is contributing to the latest industry developments and prioritizing safety and compliance for today’s corporate drone teams.
I understand Skyward was chosen to assist with the FAA’s development of Remote ID. What does this mean for your organization?
We are honored to be working with the initial cohort to assist the FAA in establishing technology requirements for other companies to develop applications needed for Remote ID technology. The FAA’s proposed Remote ID rule includes three main goals:
- Allow the FAA to better oversee the safety of the nation’s airspace
- Facilitate law enforcement identification of and response to security threats posed by drones
- Provide a basis for the further integration of drones into the airspace.
Skyward has long advocated for Remote ID, which we view as a positive step forward for the entire drone industry that will unlock future capabilities. Remote ID will drive commerce and promote innovation, while also enhancing safety. This is an important step toward Universal Traffic Management (UTM), which is essential for maximizing the potential of drones to be a source of economic growth for the country. Of course, we have received several questions and concerns from pilots regarding the impact this will have on their everyday drone operations, such as cost or need for new equipment. The good news is that many manufacturers believe that most existing drones will be able to comply with the transmission aspect of Remote ID through software updates without any need for additional hardware.
It is also worth noting that this isn’t our first experience developing technical solutions to regulatory challenges in partnership with the FAA. We were one of the first companies approved by the FAA to give users fast, automated access to controlled airspace through LAANC in October 2017.
What action has Skyward taken since the FAA’s announcement in March? Have you introduced any new offerings for your customers that align with these efforts?
Today, Skyward is working with local, state, federal and international regulatory bodies to develop interoperable standards. As we innovate new regulatory frameworks, everything is going to build on top of those initial building blocks. Already, we are laying the foundations for an FAA-compliant Remote ID solution with our Live Flight Tracking feature within the Skyward Aviation Management Platform. With Live Flights, organizations can monitor and manage their drone flights from the office, field or even at home. The feature empowers greater oversight and transparency across an organization for managers in the office, while increasing situational awareness and supporting coordination during complex aviation operations for pilots in the field.
In addition, we just released our new Approval Workflow feature, which allows drone crews to seek approval from managers before deploying to the field. For example, a crew can plan an operation using Skyward’s suite of flight planning features, including details such as date and time, flight areas, airspace access requests, crew and aircraft information, weather and customer information, and click the operation’s status button to select “Request Review.” If anything seems out of place, managers and other stakeholders can deny approval or request changes before granting permission. This not only ensures that all parties are on the same page before takeoff, but more importantly, helps drone program managers make informed decisions about their operations.
The addition of Approval Workflow represents just one more way Skyward’s Aviation Management Platform helps corporate drone teams improve safety and compliance in their operations.
As a company who is heavily involved in the latest regulations and innovations shaping the drone industry today, what other developments or topics do you consider to be top of mind?
Another key topic for the industry involves making sure the ecosystem is ready to support drone operations of the future, including connected drones. Today, Skyward and Verizon are ready for connected drone operations. Skyward’s Aviation Network Technology team has been hard at work connecting drones to Verizon’s wireless network and working to achieve aviation-grade connectivity for our industry drone operators. With 5G, we can expect to see drones benefitting from lower latency, rapid edge computing and data speeds up to 20 times faster, as well as offering support for far more connected devices. We want drones to be able to fly as far as the battery permits, enabling operators to accomplish much more in fewer flights.
In the future, we envision a system of UTM that includes all aircraft in the sky, not just drones. In the long term, we expect a variety of systems on both crewed and unmanned aircraft to work together to manage all types of air traffic. Today, Skyward even has a prototype system that integrates some crewed-aircraft data into our Live Flights feature.
What can you tell us about Skyward’s experiences or observations during COVID-19?
From the beginning of the pandemic, it was extremely important to us that our customers continued to receive uninterrupted access to our Aviation Management Platform, especially companies working in essential services and critical infrastructure. We also offered free resources, including instructional webinars and educational content, professional services and support to ensure our customers and partners were able to advance their drone training and piloting even when their usual flight operations were scaled back or perhaps put on hold altogether.
We are continuously amazed by the new ways we see our customers maximizing the value of their drone use. Professional drone service operator SkySkopes, for example, turned to drones to spray disinfectant in target locations in response to the pandemic. Similarly, Brasfield & Gorrie relied on the technology to keep their job sites documented and stakeholders involved with 2D maps and 3D models when physical walkthroughs weren’t an option.
How has this inspired Skyward or fueled change for the organization?
Now more than ever, we are committed to helping companies mitigate the risks and liabilities that come with implementing a drone program. With various moving parts that range from permits and schedules to equipment, personnel and contractors, we understand the chance of risk is high, especially as a drone program grows. We designed our Aviation Management Platform for this very reason, to provide members of the industry with a powerful tool that balances all the factors in play. Now, with the addition of the new Approval Workflow, we are more able than ever to help our customers maximize transparency and centralized monitoring, while keeping their risks and liability to a minimum.
During what has undoubtedly been a very trying time for all, we are grateful for a renewed appreciation for remote work. It is at the core of everything we do, from supporting remote monitoring tasks to enabling remote reporting and program insights. It is exciting to connect with members of the industry and discover how we can support their needs in new and creative ways.