July 27, 2023

Building a World Class Fleet

We pride ourselves on the profound knowledge of our remote pilots, who form the backbone of our operations. Our global team of flight operators comprises a remarkable collective of professionals, including ex-competitive drone pilots, former and active military personnel, and trained crewed aircraft pilots. The knowledge and skill they each bring to the table is critical not only to our own flight capabilities, but to advancing industry. In each of our markets, our remote pilots help to change attitudes towards the drone industry by continuously reinforcing the safety standards and adherence to regulation that make each flight possible.

However, as the world’s leading uncrewed drone airline, we are only as strong as the drones we fly. We understand that the strength of our operations relies heavily on the quality and capabilities of the aircraft themselves. Drone manufacturing has boomed in the last five years, resulting in a multitude of similarly capable uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) entering the market. Consequently, meticulous planning and a thorough testing and selection process have become essential. We are committed to only flying best-in-class aircraft, ensuring that we deliver a superior service that is scalable and meets the evolving demands of our customers.

What makes a best-in-class drone?

Each drone in our fleet is meticulously evaluated prior to being onboarded, taking into consideration factors such as flight endurance, payload capacity, autonomous flight capabilities and overall capability to effectively perform our core business offering. Through this rigorous selection process, we have established a robust and versatile fleet that empowers our pilots to execute key operational use cases with precision and confidence.

Our selection process goes beyond solely considering aircraft capabilities. We have a thorough research phase which starts with in-depth desk-based assessment and initial conversations, during which we review a potential OEM partner against a set of predefined requirements covering four key areas: drone hardware, company, regulation, operations. This process gives us a clear view of critical factors, including manufacturer maturity, customer support capabilities, ability “and willingness“ to integrate with our suite of established systems and proprietary technologies, build quality, and regulatory approvals, and informs our technology team whether the OEM is a potential partner.

The OEM-operator relationship

We don’t simply procure a drone platform to fly; we initiate a partnership with the manufacturer, cultivating a strong relationship which is built on trust, respect, and a shared vision.

We strongly believe that building our fleet goes hand in hand with building our OEM relationships. We foster longstanding, collaborative relationships with our partners whereby we provide operational feedback and data, which supports the ongoing development of their drone platforms.

Our relationship with ST Engineering is testament to the benefit of this approach. We first began working with the Singaporean multinational in 2021, when we partnered on a project for the Public Utilities Board (PUB) to monitor the city-state’s many waterways and reservoirs.

In bringing together ST Engineering’s sophisticated drone platform and Skyports Drone Services expertise in the operation of drones, we have developed a truly reciprocal relationship, where our flight operations specialists are able to provide operational knowledge to continuously improve the ST Engineering platform and we are able to continually develop our capabilities for new flight missions. As our portfolio of projects with ST Engineering has grown, so too has the relationship, with the company becoming an investor in 2022.

Resilience and futureproofing

Redundancy planning, operational continuity and scalability are critical to the development of our fleet. While our technology team assesses the best drones to onboard, our Head of Flight Operations must decide where those assets are placed.

In this fast-paced industry, with its mix of trials, proof-of-concept flights and commercial operations, it’s essential that we know what drones are needed where and prepare accordingly to make the flights possible. If two light payload drones are required for operations in Northumbria, England next week and one is required in the south of France the week after how do we make sure that our people and our aircraft are ready to ensure flights take off? It’s a challenge that we face on weekly basis, but the answer is simple: develop a resilient fleet that is capable of matching demand anywhere in the world.

To that end, the ability for our manufacturer partners to scale their production to meet the service levels we require is a fundamental aspect of selection. We need to be able to mobilise quickly and fly where our customers need us and we look for OEM partners that can meet that pace. Similarly, we protect ourselves and our operational continuity through onboarding multiple drones with similar use cases. This ensures that we’re able to account for necessary downtime for technology updates and servicing without impacting the service we provide. For example, if one of our multirotor aircraft partners schedules a routine operating system update, we need to ensure that we’re able to continue our operations and meet customer requirements without interruption. That in-built resilience and flexibility is crucial to fortifying our fleet and service offering.

As we grow our operations and enter into new markets, we are building out our relationships with OEMs to ensure we can service our customers effectively and meet the regulatory requirements of each of the jurisdictions we operate within. Critical to this is the onboarding of new aircraft models which meet local requirements and reinforce our ability to plan resources. In Korea, for example, there is a requirement for aircraft flying over urban or semi-urban locations to have a parachute onboard. Korea is an important emerging drone market which benefits from regulatory readiness and an appetite to implement drone operations. Through to fortification of our drone fleet and development of new, jurisdictionally essential requirements, such as parachutes, we are able to serve more markets and customers.

Final word

Our aircraft are best-in-class and have been selected because they have scored highly across several phases of assessment, including live flight testing, and we can therefore say with confidence that they will perform well on real-life operations. We’re building a fleet that can meet the requirements of the services we provide (logistics, survey, monitoring), and enable us to enter new markets to serve customers with drone operations. The adoption of a drone agnostic approach very early in the life of the company has enabled us to develop resilience and ensure a robust fleet that is capable of scaling with the industry.

Over the next 12 months, we are building out our fleet further, adding new capabilities to strengthen our service, diversify our offering, build redundancies and enable us to continue to scale at pace.