Can drones provide an economic benefit in the energy sector?

Matt Dunlevy is President, and founder of SkySkopes, an unmanned aircraft systems flight operations company based in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  SkySkopes offers infrastructure inspections for the energy industry, using high fidelity imaging services on drones.   In this episode of the Drone Radio Show, Matt talks about SkySkopes, the benefits of using drones to inspect energy infrastructure and lessons learned in creating a drone-based energy services company.

Message from Randy: My podcast is completely free, so if you find value in these episodes, please consider donating a dollar. Your donations help to defray the production costs and keep this podcast growing.

In This Episode

  • Introduction. Matt Dunlevy is President and C.E.O. of SkySkopes, a professional drone flight operator focused on bringing innovative inspection solutions to the energy industry. The company focuses primarily on utility companies and oil and gas companies.
  • About SkySkopes.  SkySkopes was founded in 2014 and headquartered in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The company received its Section 333 exemption in June 2015. Matt talks about how his interest and passion for aviation led to the formation of SkySkopes. Initially, the idea was to create a videography based services company, but he quickly discovered the opportunities in the energy sector.
  • Starting The Company. Before SkySkopes could serve the energy sector, the team had to first figure out what they needed to learn about the industry and how drones would best provide the intended outcomes. They had to learn the vocabulary commonly used in the energy industry before they could convince engineers who have been in utility industry their entire lives, that SkySkopes could bring new value to their everyday operations.
  • Pivotal Moments. Some of the notable events shaping SkySkopes growth include the ability to hire graduates of the University of North Dakota UAS program. These graduates are uniquely qualified to fly UAS missions and are pilot ready. SkySkopes was one of the first companies in North Dakota to receive their Section 333 exemption and Part 107 certificates for their pilots.
  • Real Benefits. Matt shares an example of a company that uses drones to inspect large boilers at electric facilities and have saved utility companies $15,000 – $50,000 per inspection.
  • Beyond Visual Line of Flight. According to Matt, the ability to fly beyond visual line of sight would be a defining factor for the industry and open several new opportunities. SkySkopes is working preparing for beyond visual line of flight through its partnership with the University of North Dakota, understanding the needs of the energy industry and working with the Grand Forks UAS Northern Plains test site and the NASA Unmanned Traffic Management program.
  • Regional Assets. UAS companies in North Dakota and especially, the Grand Forks are supported by a number of regional, state and federal assets. The Grand Forks region has a wealth of flight operators, the University of North Dakota, several subject matter experts, economic development professionals, qualified pilots and a variety of unmanned aircraft. The region is also home to one of the FAA UAS Test Sites and Grand Sky, a commercial UAS air facility.  Grand Sky is co-located with the Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is where Predators, Reapers and Global Hawks fly. Matt prides the region for its world class partnerships and world class educational institutions.
  • Lessons Learned. The greatest piece of advice that Matt can share with other UAS entrepreneurs is to jump in head first and exude the virtues of being nimble, scrappy and humble. For those that do, he feels the industry will reciprocate the efforts and maybe even disproportionately so to their benefit.
  • The Move To Minot, ND. In 2016, SkySkopes announced the opening of a second office in the western part of the State, in Minot. This area is home to the second largest oil producing region in the United States. The move signals the company’s commitment to the drone industry and paves the way to expand its energy utilities services. Grand Forks is where there is a pipeline of extremely qualified and talented U.S. pilots from the University of North Dakota, but out West, that’s where contracts are the places where missions will be flown.
  • SkySkopes Academy. In 2017, SkySkopes established a training program to provide extensive education and training to students looking to take their UAS experience to the next level. Matt talks about the Academy and how it helps to maintain standards and safety within the company, as well as providing quality UAS on-line or in-person training to students.
  • About Matt. Matt graduated from the University of North Dakota in the field of history with an emphasis on business history. He shares how his passion for aviation led him to start a business in the drone industry.
  • Outlook for SkySkopes. As the industry progresses, SkySkopes is positioning itself for growth and the eventuality of flying beyond visual line of flight.  The company expects to open offices elsewhere as growth continues, as well expanding its fleet and data capabilities to include some of the most advanced sensors remote sensing equipment and data processing software that are available today. Much is contingent on the regulations and how the industry continues to evolve, but Matt sees a continued demand for quality UAS services.
  •  Closing.  Matt hopes those doing business with SkySkopes walk away with a sense of total satisfaction.

Mentioned Links