Flying Safe in the Drone Zone
Entrepreneur becomes beacon for navigating UAV risks
Just about anyone can fly a drone … but can they fly it safely and effectively, minimizing risks and within Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations on your construction project?
These are the questions that 25-year Navy veteran Mike Korman, CEO and Chief Pilot of his Minnesota-based startup, Right Stuff Drones, asks of every executive or senior leadership team that considers using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This veteran-owned business focuses on helping companies navigate drone applications and implementation.
“We’re on the cusp of a whole new era in flight,” says Korman. “I believe that in five years every leading construction company as well as many emergency response groups, farmers and others will have a drone program. Now’s the time to prepare for that eventuality—and that preparation requires more than an operator, a vehicle and a camera.”
Korman established Right Stuff Drones as a resource for companies interested in the possibility of using UAVs. His goal is to provide the answers to key questions about licensing, flight logs, maintenance programs as well as safety for operators and the community.
His range of experience over the last 20+ years uniquely positions him as a voice of reason in this rapidly evolving market.
From Battlefields to Boardrooms
Korman’s appreciation for all things that fly began when he was a teenager. At the time, he wanted to join the Navy, inspired by his ancestry and John Lehman, who was Secretary of the Navy and had attended the same high school.
He explains, “Military service is part of my heritage. My dad was in the U.S. Army and grandfather in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. In fact, some of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution.”
He enlisted with the goal to fly fighter jets with further
influence from the movie, “Top Gun.” While military downsizing and physical limitations (imperfect eyesight) minimized his chances for flying, he found a different calling as part of the Navy’s Construction Battalion (Seabees). For over two decades, Korman served his country as a Seabee, eventually earning the highest enlisted rank of Master Chief Petty Officer. During his career, he served in four combat zones and earned a number of awards, including one of the first Bronze Star Medals awarded in Iraq to an enlisted sailor. His Bronze Star Medal citation was signed by General David Petraeus, for whom Korman worked several times.
Korman says, “My primary role was really as a leader of troops with a heavy focus on construction, project management and logistics.”
At the age of 40, with wife and family, he retired from the Navy and began a civilian career, again in construction, with Target Corp. to support its capital building program. He began as an owner’s site representative in Chicago, was promoted several times and eventually took on construction operations that included more than three-quarters of the U.S. His work involved the management of new store construction and remodels as well as specialty projects.
In 2015, after nine years with the company, he knew it was time for another career change and his love of aviation provided the motivation.
“I’m a serial technologist,” shares Korman, referring to his love of all things technology related. “I just know this drone thing is going to take off. But if history is any indicator, the ride won’t be smooth. The greatest advancements in aviation have come as a result of failure. The application and regulation of drones will have to go through an evolution, and I think I can help smooth that path with my knowledge of flying and construction.”
The “Right” Investment
Following his long-ago dream of flying, Korman earned his pilot’s license last year and has become a third-generation aviation photographer. His father and grandfather were cartographers and pioneered the use of aviation photography to make maps worldwide.
As well, earning an FAA license has given him a new appreciation for operating in today’s airspace.
“As I was going through the process to get my pilot’s license, I read everything I could about manned aviation. I’m an FAA-compliant commercial drone operator, but piloting manned aircraft provides a whole different perspective about safe operation,” says Korman.
With that in mind, he put together a comprehensive strategy for moving forward with the application of drones as part of a commercial business. In a few years, many construction enterprises will have the ability to operate drones efficiently, safely and at a scale commensurate with their value. In the near term, many firms are outsourcing drone operations.
Through his experience, Korman has put together a list of important questions that every organization should ask prospective drone operators, whether they’re employees or third-party providers. Examples include confirming that the pilot has obtained an FAA-issued Pilot Certificate to operate commercial drones, asking whether the pilot carries aviation liability insurance, and getting details about the pilot’s continuing education efforts for aviation, drones and safety training.
Korman adds, “There are many other considerations beyond the responses to these questions when developing a drone program. Privacy, data security and management procedures, ownership of data and data access are all additional areas of focus for your team. And every state is different.
As the interest and application of drones continue to rise, most governmental and commercial enterprises will need to establish a comprehensive drone policy to protect themselves against unfortunate accidents or mishaps.
Korman concludes, “I guarantee that commercial and hobby operators are already flying over one or more of your projects. If you don’t have a policy in place and there is a crash, the FAA and the courts will decide your fate.”