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Expert Interview Series: Tom Hanson of The Sky Guys On Being One Of Canada’s Top Drone Pilots And The Importance of Being Insured And Certified

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Tom Hanson is COO of The Sky Guys, Canada’s leaders in drone services, technology, artificial intelligence and education.

The Sky Guys are some of the best drone pilots in Canada. How did you personally get involved in the UAV industry, to begin with?

Drones had been on our radar for several years, but early in 2015 we saw them becoming more prominent in the commercial market. We weren’t hobbyists or anything, but do have background in tech and building startups, so we decided to give it a go.

At what point did you start to think, “Oh wait, I might be able to do this for a living?”

We committed to go all-in from day one. That’s an important piece for any entrepreneur. If you have a second job or are focusing on something 50% of the time, you’re leaving the door open for failure. Give everything to your venture and you’ll do anything to make it successful. Turns out that was a good decision for us with The Sky Guys.

Once you decided to go pro, what were some of the first steps you had to take, to be able to pilot drones commercially?

In Canada, apart from having a drone to fly, you must hold a Special Flight Operations Certification, aviation insurance and ground school training as a pilot. A common misconception is that there are exemptions if your drone weighs less than a certain amount. That’s wrong. If you are flying the drone to make money, you need a permit, insurance and training. Period.

The Sky Guys hold Special Flight Operations Certificates (SFOC) that allow you to fly almost anywhere in Canada at any time. Is this a unique setup? Are there generally different regulations for different provinces?

There are 5 regions in Canada, each with their own set of rules you must meet to get permitted. If you want to fly in one of those regions, you need to fill out an application and submit it to Transport Canada. Normal turnaround time for approval is 3 weeks. Try running a business when you need 3 weeks advance notice for any project.

In our early days, we had a lot of permits in the pipeline with Transport Canada, that they contacted us and asked if we’d like to apply for a blanket permit. We received our first standing order SFOC a month into starting The Sky Guys, granting us permission to fly anywhere in Ontario for a term of 1 year, while following local air regulations and such. Since then, we’ve been granted standing orders in the other regions across the country. There aren’t many companies who have this level of permission in Canada.

Also, do there tend to be time restrictions on when drones can be operated? How can drone training help a UAV pilot get up-to-speed with all of these little things they need to know?

You can apply to fly at night, but Transport Canada would want to know a lot of information about your equipment, who’s flying it, your emergency procedures etc. They want to be sure you are minimizing risk as much as possible. Transport Canada defines “daytime” as 30-minutes before sunrise and 30-minutes after sunset, so there is a little leeway there. Drone training programs are built with these types of applications in mind.

The Sky Guys are known to work with some of the fastest-growing sectors of the drone industry. What have been some areas where you’ve seen some of the most growth? Have there been any areas that you were surprised they were growing so fast?

Our biggest growth has been on the industrial side; oil and gas, power and utilities, infrastructure. Applications like inspecting live flare stacks, wind turbines, bridges and so on. We are surprised with the entire industry in general and how fast it is growing.

Agriculture is one of the fastest-growing fields for drone pilots. First of all, why are drones being used so extensively in the agricultural industry? And are there any special licensing or certifications a UAV operator needs to fly drones for agriculture?

Agriculture is one of those industries that can be very labor-intensive in day-to-day operations that are required for compliance and growth. In general, a lot of these functions can be done by drones in less time, with less cost and at no risk to humans.

Licensing requirements for agriculture are the same, although some of the payloads (cameras) used in agriculture will require special permits if they used lasers for data collections.

The Sky Guys also offer training and services in a variety of industrial industries, even manufacturing. What are a few industries that will be starting to incorporate drones in the next few years? How might a drone pilot get started now, to get their foot in the door?

We expect to see more and more applications of drones in the industrial sectors I mentioned before; oil and gas, power and utilities, infrastructure, construction etc.

These industries have a lot of rules and regulations for compliance, apart from the requirements to fly drones legally. Pilots needs to be sure they’ve got training, carry insurance and start logging flight hours on lots of different platforms. It’s easiest to do this under the wing of a company like The Sky Guys, as pilots will get experience and mentor-ship on industrial-grade drones that they wouldn’t be able to fly on their own.

Obviously, film is one of the classic areas for drone usage. Why is it essential from drone operators working on movie sets to be fully certified and insured?

Same reasons as above. Lot’s of rules and regulations when you’re working for multiple clients, from an insurance standpoint alone. Pilots need to be sure they know what they’re doing when flying in busy areas and around people.

How can having full certification, being properly insured, and well-trained help drone pilots’ take their career to the next level?

To put it simply, without these things, pilots won’t have a career. We get lots of applications from pilots who aren’t trained, insured or certified and we take that as an indicator that the pilot in question is not fully current with the drone landscape.

On the other hand, we get applications from pilots with great training and tons of flight hours on multiple drone platforms and with commercial experience. Those are the type of pilots we’d let fly for us. This is pretty standard with any of our competitors as well. Pilots are reps for the company in front of all of our clients and we need to rest assured they know what they’re doing and what to do in any scenario.

Want to learn more about the drone industry? Contact us today!

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