You may have come across the term “Software as a Service” (SaaS). We can see it in our use of cloud-based tools, including Microsoft Office 365 and Mailchimp. SaaS allows us to work (and play) anywhere, anytime – if we have internet access. Let me introduce Scott Hamey of New England Avionics, whose start-up is based on a completely new offering: DaaS or “Drones as a Service”. New England Avionics has just completed the SproutX Pre-Accelerator program. With investors already on board, New England Avionics will officially launch its operations in January 2017.
What does New England Avionics do?
Our focus is on providing training and traineeships in DaaS. We find the work, manage the apprenticeship, place them in the workforce and provide training. It is a NSW traineeship that can be delivered as a HSC course. The UAVAir pilot program has seen four schools set up in the New England area.
We are currently working on expanding the pilot to include Armidale and in talks with UNE in relation to offering third year agricultural students the opportunity to do the Cert III.
Our training, delivered in partnership with CASA-certified and government-accredited training provider UAVAir, upskills business owners and staff in the use of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). We offer a range of managed services to assist their day-to-day use of UAVs in their business or organisation, including: UAV technology and CASA regulation consulting; equipment servicing; fleet management and flight planning; UAV insurance repairs; on-site maintenance and support.
As exciting as drones are, essentially you are starting up a training organisation; what led you to this particular concept?
My passion is tackling youth unemployment. Armidale struggles to provide opportunities for many young people. Focusing on a growth sector will provide opportunity for employment. The sector has largely been unregulated; however, this is changing and the need for qualified, well-trained drone operators who understand the unique needs of business in the agricultural and environmental sector will quickly become a priority. This endeavour takes advantage of my interest and experience in IT&T and addresses my personal social mission.
What are your credentials for setting up a drone training organisation?
I have been in the industry since 2011 and was in the telecommunications industry for ten years. My two other shareholders are a data scientist and a software electrical engineer. While there are a lot of training providers, UAVAir is the only RTO provider that offers a Certificate III or a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Certification Course that is offered in conjunction with a Certificate III Aviation (Remote Pilot – Visual Line of Sight), which is a nationally recognised qualification.
Aren’t drones simply a flying camera that takes real estate videos and beautiful landscapes?
Drones are a piece of equipment in the same way that a tractor is. Their value is in what they are used for. Previously, they could only fly for a few minutes and were commercially unviable. Now they average 30 minutes. The industry is currently working on hybrid power for drones that will increase flight times up to three hours. Another factor is the development of software that works at the farm’s (cloud) edge. Information can be processed on a laptop or tablet locally and when connectivity is available can be backed up to the cloud. There are no limits on its potential commercial use.
From a business perspective, who benefits from the use of drones?
By 2020, drones will be a 40-billion-dollar industry.
They are useful for: crop scouting; asset and infrastructure audits and management – for example, fence lines. Drones are also very useful after a disaster; water asset management (e.g. pipelines/dams); mustering (e.g. hunting down lost livestock); vegetation control (e.g. weeds) – and ways we haven’t invented yet!
Drones in the renewable sector, for example, in wind farms, allow you to conduct a safety or maintenance inspection without shutting down the wind turbines.
Our traineeships will be focused on the agricultural and renewables sector with training focused on the specific needs of these industries.
On 29 September 2016, CASA lifted regulations on remote licences. Sub 2 kg drones (and sub 25 kg for farmers) will not require a licence. However, you will not be able to get insurance. UAVAir has created a 2-day course that enables drone operators to qualify for insurance. However, there is a significant need for highly qualified pilots to work in industry, and New England Avionics will address that need.
The New England presents opportunity for the expansion of large-scale renewable energy projects, precision farming research and development (e.g. the UNE Smart Farm), expansion of potential mining activities, ongoing broad-acre agricultural innovation etc. All these represent real opportunities for future local UAV applications, and especially for local UAV training.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge has been establishing the right partnerships and identifying the right software solutions to suit current connectivity conditions.
What does the future hold?
We will be working with our R&D pilot sites to refine the traineeship program, and we are at an interesting commercial-in-confidence stage with a potential pilot participant. We will also be speaking to local businesses with an interest in the agricultural or renewable sector. Our intention is to employ 10 to 15 staff in the next 2 – 3 years, and in 4 – 5 years we plan to expand to other regional areas of Australia.
Thank you, Scott.