When bespoke unmanned vehicles specialist Consortiq first opened its doors in 2015, it set out with the ambition of carving out a position as one of the UK’s leading pilot training entities.
Three years on and the company has become one of the leading lights within the industry having rolled out into a variety of new territories.
The company’s CEO, Paul Rigby, sat down with Commercial Drone Professional to lift the lid on its growth and get to the bottom of some of the industry’s most pressing issues.
Can you tell us a little bit about your thoughts on the current position of the UAV market and where the company sits within the market?
We have identified that the existing system of training could be accelerated without losing any safety benefits. We came up with a three-day training course so people could allocate that time. We recognised that the time of large enterprises was valuable and they didn’t want to have to go backwards and forwards and come back and finish it.
If you look out the window and see a car, imagine that’s a flying car, the moment it lifts off the ground, it’s technically regulated by the CAA, is that really the right organisation?
There’s a lot of principals we can trickle down or flow down from existing aviation regulations but it also needs a new look at it.
In terms of regulation for a drone operator, you may have to ask for permission from the CAA and they can give you that permission but the same drone operator may have to request permission from the local authority, the police might be involved, it might impact other stakeholders who want to understand how you’re operating in relation to their property, i.e. people at network rail, so you have that one-to-many approach which complicates things significantly and really slows things down.
What do you think needs to happen with the regulation?
The call from the CAA is often that they expect the industry to come up with the answers to what needs to be done and present robust proposals. I think where we are making progress with that now as being part of the department for business energy and industrial standards drone industry action group, we can highlight some of these problems that need to be solved and say together, ‘this is the voice of the industry, this is what we need and this is how we’re going to go about it’ and actually start driving things forward more.
At the moment I feel like we’re a little bit stagnated. The amount of people that want to use the technology is still growing, but not maybe at the rate at which some market reports would have you believe.
I have heard reports that the industry might be in the trough of disillusionment, what do you think to this?
I think we’re probably just coming out of it. We’ve definitely been through that and because of the way people come up with their own business models as well.
I was wondering what your thoughts are on continuity and ensuring the same standards?
Some people will claim there’s no standard but there is a standard because to get a national qualified entity approval you obviously have to meet the requirements of the CAA, they set what that minimum is. But obviously as a company you don’t set out to provide the minimum, you try to exceed your customers’ expectations and give them the best possible chance for success, because if they’re successful you’re successful, so everyone tries to outdo each other.
Everyone is saying ‘we can do the course quicker’ and ‘our course is better quality’ ‘we’ll teach you more about this’ and actually for those people and organisations that perhaps aren’t as innovative at creating higher quality, they just try to compete on price, which is obviously, all the reports that exist would suggest, that’s a losing strategy if your only USP is a lower price.
With all those different options, what is it that you believe really makes your company stand out from competitors? What is your main USP?
When we set about to do it there was a number of things we wanted to try to cover. One was how do we project the principal of airmanship at the core of everything we do? Because, whether you’re a commercial or a recreational user of the airspace, outside of drones people take being an air user very seriously, so whether you’re a private pilot, a private hand glider, a commercial airline pilot, and I’m a skydiver, we take that very seriously and just because I’m doing it for my hobby, doesn’t mean I take it any less seriously.
Other training operators have told me that there’s a bit of a problem with people who don’t have much experience becoming instructors themselves, so there’s not a standard of who can be an instructor, how do you feel about that?
There are statistics out there that say you only really only ever learn 70% of what you have been taught, so if you’re already starting at a lower point, you’re on a downhill slope, that’s certainly one thing that we tackle so all of our instructors had quite a few years under their belt in terms of operations, things they have been exposed to, in fact things that no one is replicating on a routine basis.
It’s quite easy for anyone to make out that they’re an expert, just because they have got what is a very entry level qualification, and there is nothing else really to back it up with, and again that’ll be one where the group of organisations working together would be hopefully able to set a standard to say if you’re an instructor delivering on this course you should have X minimum number of years.
Do you think there are any wide reaching issues that are affecting the commercial drone sector at the moment?
The initial growth in the market has been through organisations that are using a drone as their main business as opposed to a tool within their organisation. So where we see the most success is with organisations who have a trade, they have a specialisation, they’re an engineer, they’re a surveyor, they’re a photographer, they’re a videographer, and what they then use is a tool, like a drone, and a drone as a tool is no different than using a tripod as a tool or an iPad as a tool, it just means they get more out of what they already knew.
There’s a significant proportion of that market that don’t have that to fall back on but what they do know how to do is fly a drone and you can probably go through a lot of drone websites and just see the amount of services they offer and I would find it very hard to believe you can be a specialist in all of those areas.
An organisation, typically, isn’t paying for you to fly a drone, they’re paying for you to solve a problem.
Are there any plans for strategic growth for the coming months that you would be able to outline?
We’re really seeing drone operations move out from R&D into accepted business practice and you’re always going to get that curve of early adopters and it’s a bell curve, so we have seen a lot more organisations begin to introduce drone operations, scale up drone operations and really need that assistance so that’s really the main area of focus for us for this year and probably for need year as well, of how we scale up that operation and how we contribute some of the solutions to knocking down some of the barriers, there some things we’re working on at the moment which should go some way I think to mitigating some of those issues.