Written by Greg Barnes
Dong and I have recently become AUVSI TOP Level 1 certified!
So… what does that mean?? Before I get into that, I first want to talk about Part 107 — specifically, some flaws with it.
As you know, the FAA Part 107 certification is what allows a person to legally fly a drone and be compensated for your services. It’s basically like a chauffeurs license, but for a drone. But just because you’re licensed to fly — and even licensed to to be able to fly AND be paid for it — doesn’t mean you’re a good pilot. It just means that you’re legally allowed to operate a drone. Again, it doesn’t even mean that you’re proficient at it — just that you’re allowed to do it. You get the concept.
Now, let’s say you’re a professional in need of drone services. So in this example, you’re a real estate agent who wants to find a drone pilot who can take photos of homes you’re selling. Or you’re a construction site manager, and you need a drone pilot who can create an orthomosaic map of your construction site. Or you’re a world-class skier who wants drone footage as you zoom down the largest, most difficult mountain of your professional career. In any of those cases, you don’t just want to hire any drone pilot… you want to hire a damn good one — one who's proven. But how do you prove it?
“How long have you been flying?” might seem to be a good question to ask a remote pilot in order to gauge their skills. But the problem is, you're not really gauging any skills by asking that question. With that question, you're only asking for a number of months or years. Imagine that someone has been driving a car for a certain number of months or years, or even decades. Does that length of time determine the driver's skill or safety level in the car? No! Just because someone has had their driver's license for a certain period of time doesn't necessarily mean they're a good driver. So "How long have you been flying" won't necessarily prove to you that a remote pilot is skilled.
A similar but also flawed question would be, “How long have you had your Part 107?” For Dong, the answer is 3 and a half years. For me, just one and a half. These may sound like small, unimpressive numbers, but consider this: The FAA’s comprehensive drone rules only went into effect in August 2016 — so ANY Part 107 pilot you ask today (in mid-2022) will have a similar answer: “less than 6 years.” And that's why this question is also not a good indicator of a drone pilot's skill: Because ANY commercial remote pilot you ask has only been Part 107 certified for a short period of time.
So, then, HOW do you know you’re getting a good pilot?? This is something the vast majority of people and companies who hire or contract drone pilots want to know. It's a very common question — a very easy question, really — yet there's never been an easy way to figure out the answer. But hopefully that's about to change.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) — has created what they call the AUVSI Trusted Operator Program (TOP). AUVSI is the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a nonprofit, and, according to their website, is “devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community.” Their scope of interest encompasses drones, and they are extremely well-respected within the remote pilot community.
AUVSI describes TOP like this: “The AUVSI Trusted Operator Program™ (TOP) fills the gap between these minimally prescriptive operating regulations and a higher level of demonstrated knowledge, flight proficiency, safety and risk management practices…” These additional skills — above and beyond what the Part 107 can provide — are “expected to be valued by employers and customers of commercial UAS operators.”
This is a fancy way of saying what I stated above: that just because a remote pilot has their Part 107 doesn't mean that they've been proven. AUVSI believes that their Trusted Operator Program™ will become a standard way for pilots to demonstrate their " knowledge, flight proficiency, safety and risk management practices." And AUVSI expects that employers and customers who hire drone pilots will look to TOP to be an indicator of who's a good pilot.
Dong and I went through some pretty thorough training to receive this certification, and we’re so pleased we did it. We learned a lot of great things along the way, and we are already incorporating those improvements into our workflow.
Our company, 2cofly, on the one hand, already provides world-class drone services to the Guam and Micronesia region. On the other hand, 2cofly is still in its infancy — we’re just over 1 year old, and we still have a lot of growing to do! But we are committed to remaining incredibly professional as we grow, and we plan to accomplish this in many ways. Here are
just two of many things we plan to do which will set us apart from our competitors: 1) Every one of our employees — every single one, despite their job title — will be required to have their Part 107 certification. Why? We think it’s important that everyone in the company know the regulations and know the lingo, so that they are able to communicate effectively with one another and able to understand clearly what is going on in the company and in every operation. 2) Above and beyond that Part 107 requirement for all employees, all of our pilots will be required to have their AUVSI TOP certification. We want every single one of our pilots to stand out in their field.
It’s one thing to claim that you’re going to hold your company to a high standard as you grow. Well, this AUVSI TOP Level 1 certification is just one more piece of evidence which proves we’re already holding ourselves to a high standard. As we’ve said, we will continue to have high standards for everyone in the company — not just our pilots, but all of our employees. Thanks for reading this post and being part of our journey of growth and professionalism.
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