Company trains drone operators to keep the skies safe

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Tom Walker says DroneUp provides services
for drone pilots in more than 60 countries.

Tom Walker believes his company, DroneUp, can help keep order in the skies while permitting unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, to perform community service.

The Chesapeake-based business promotes safety in the use of drones through “continuous education” of its operators, he says. Nationwide there are 160,000 certified pilots flying 1 million recreational drones.

The company provides commercial pilot management for data collection services for industries such as real estate, agriculture and construction. “Additionally, we provide training and fleet management services,” says Walker, explaining the sources of the company’s revenue. “Any company that needs drone services, whether that’s video pictures or data, they call us, and we deploy the pilots and gather the data and then process it appropriately and return the results to them.”

Begun in November 2016, DroneUp works with hobbyists and companies with fleets of drones. “We can provide services around the world for pilots,” Walker says, adding DroneUp is active in more than 60 countries.

Membership requires completion of the company’s free DroneUp Safe Operations course and compliance with the International Association of Community Drone Pilots (IACDP) standards of conduct and safety guidelines.

Walker purchased his own drone in 2016. He saw that many drone pilots were assisting in recovery efforts after major disasters. For example, drones helped in the search for missing people, taking photos and videos of inaccessible areas.

Walker created an app that aggregated emergency alerts so that drone pilots would be notified more quickly of coordinated missions.

His original plan in starting the company was to use it as a platform for community service. “It was a really good idea, but we found out quickly we were early to the ballgame,”  Walker says.

He launched his app last year four days before Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area. His initial community of 300 drone pilots shot up to 4,000 users overnight. “We had 400 volunteers show up in Houston,” he says.

Walker wanted to find a way to allow drones to continue helping communities in emergencies while also assisting the Federal Aviation Administration and other authorities in keeping the airspace safe.

In April, DroneUp began the Responsible Community Pilot (RCP) program to promote safety and training. It is partnering with the IACDP to provide pilots with  education, certification and resources. The program’s mobile apps let pilots know where they can fly safely.

By early June, more than 20,000 non-commercial drone pilots were RCP members. That number is expected to increase to more than 100,000 during the next six months.

Because the company is based in Virginia, Walker would like to see the commonwealth become a “leader in how it trains recreational pilots and provides opportunity for commercial pilots,” he says.

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