by Heidi Riley
Innovator of the Year: Drone operations training company hiring staff
The Business Excellence Awards, held annually by the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce, celebrate excellence in the local business community. Six awards were given during the event, which was held in February.
The dinner was catered by six local restaurants, including Brothers 2, Pizza Delight, Samuel’s Coffee House, South Central Kitchen and Provisions, Water Street Bakery, and Z&G’s Specialty Fusion Cuisine. “The event put money in the hands of local restaurants at a time when they really need our support,” says Tara Maddix, Executive Director of the Chamber.
Skygate Videography Inc. was presented with the Innovator of the Year Award. Sponsored by Innovation PEI, the award is for a business or organization which has stepped outside the box to solve a business problem, identify and fulfill a new customer need or niche, and develop innovative marketing or technology solutions.
Lee Dodson, Owner of Skygate, has worked in the oil and gas industry all over the world conducting remote inspection services both underwater and with drones. He is also highly experienced in cinematography, movie production, and photography work, and has taught these skills to others worldwide.
“After taking a step back from the offshore work, I realized no one was offering professional legally operated drone services in Atlantic Canada,” says Lee. “I felt my background in inspections and working with drones, movies, and cinematography could combine into a business.”
Lee says it takes more to successfully operate a drone than just to buy one. “The need for specialized knowledge has grown over the last few years because the technology has improved so much. Only a few years ago, high-end sensors required the use of a helicopter because they were so big. Now, sensors are small enough to attach to drones.
“We can use drones to inspect a power line or wind turbine. Many commercial drones now have thermal imaging capabilities, which has prompted the interest of police and first responders.”
Another big step towards the success of the business is that Transport Canada has accredited Lee as the Advanced Drone Operations Instructor for the region, and he is authorized to assess the abilities of professional drone pilots and issue certifications.
Recently, Lee started a drone operations training school, which is registered as a private training school with the PEI Department of Education and Life-long Learning.
“Just before Christmas, I trained the Charlottetown Police Department drone team, and they have already put their training to practical use by using a drone to find a woman lost in the snow.
“I also provide support for onshore search and rescue. First Responders are looking at drones for delivering things such as epi-pens, Automated External Defibrillators, and drugs to injured people in remote locations before Paramedics can arrive on site.
“Fire departments can use thermal cameras attached to drones to detect hot spots, see through smoke to find trapped people, and assess roof conditions. Contractors can use thermal cameras for inspection work to see where heat is escaping from a roof. As thermal cameras become smaller and more capable, they have become a less expensive alternative to manned aircraft.”
Lee is working with the UPEI Climate Lab to assist in training their staff to operate drones. “A multi-spectral sensor can be attached to a drone which can detect plants under stress. We can pinpoint the exact location of problems in the field so that pesticides can be directed to that specific area, which has a financial and environmental value.”
In February 2021, Lee hired his first employee, and is training her to hone her drone piloting skills and to collect and analyze data gathered by the drones. He is considering hiring someone else in the coming months to do that work as well.
“In the summer, we are looking into expanding our training academy and I will need to take on as many as three skilled drone Instructors to deliver advanced training for First Responders on thermal detection and other specific drone equipment. Additionally, there will be opportunities for office staff, junior assistants and management.
“The people we plan to take on as Instructors need to be comfortable making presentations in front of groups or doing webinars. They should also be confident in their ability to fly a drone because we are doing some very advanced stuff. These skills can be hard to find. I do not expect to find a trained drone pilot who has all the skills necessary, but if they are able to adapt and have a keen interest in what we do, we can build on their skills and competency.
“The people we look for should be tech savvy and computer literate so they can upload and analyze data and submit the data to the client. Another important aspect of our work is cinematography. I do aerial drone work for PEI Tourism videos and for Film PEI, etc. so a creative eye and some experience with making videos, editing, and photography is essential.”
Lee says there are so many avenues where drones could be used, so candidates with previous experience in agriculture, surveying, cinematography, or environmental impact assessment could all contribute their skills to learn how to fly drones.
“I have hired people on a freelance basis and have outsourced some work such as editing and real estate photography. Moving forward, I plan to take on full-time drone pilots and Instructors, and to expand our network of drone pilots across Canada.
“Anyone who wants to be part of that network could contact me and let me know about their skills, and when we have a job opportunity, we can reach out to them as a subcontractor. Those who are good at what they do will probably be offered more work and ultimately we may take them on as full-time employees.”
Advantages of living and doing business in Summerside
Lee is originally from Cornwall, England. “We love the Atlantic Canada vibe, which is very much like where we are from, which is all fishing villages and tourism.”
“We moved to Halifax to be close to the airport because every few weeks I was flying to a job. When I took a step back from offshore work, we discovered PEI and loved it. We bought a house in Summerside and decided to move here permanently. Summerside is not too big and everyone is friendly, and it is almost like living in the country – very quiet.
“Slemon Park is a perfect place to set up a drone business. The class of airspace and low-density population allows us to provide Transport Canada compliant drone flights that would be considered high risk anywhere else. We are committed to making Slemon Park a specialist facility where we can experiment with ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS) operations.
“It means so much to be awarded Innovator of the Year,” says Lee. “The Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce encouraged us to network with local businesses, which has helped us make friends and contacts.
“I have incorporated the business, I have employees, I am looking at expanding, and I have a school. All those things would have been daunting to take on without the support of local businesses, which I got to know through the Chamber.”
For more information about Skygate Videography Inc., visit www.skygatedrones.com.
Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce 2020 Business Excellence Awards
The 2020 Business Excellence Award recipients from left to right:
- Hicken’s Service Centre: West Isle Enterprises Award for Business Excellence (1-10)
- Brye Caissie (Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour): Scotiabank Award for Employee of the Year
- Arsenault Bros. Construction Ltd.: ADL Award for Business Excellence (11+)
- Skygate Videography Inc. & Aerial Drone Services: Innovation PEI Award for Innovator of the Year
- Little Black Dress Boutique: CBDC Central PEI Award for New Business of the Year
- Evermoore Brewing Co.: City of Summerside Award for Community Impact.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
about the Summerside and Area Chamber of Commerce, visit www.summersidechamber.com.