For some folks, managing drone flights (and understanding the legal requirements) in just one country is tough enough. Margherita Bruscolini manages drone flights in more than 130 countries.
Margherita Bruscolini is Head of Drones at Globhe, a massive drone data-gathering company based in Sweden that works with more than 8,000 drone operators worldwide to collect high-resolution drone data from more than 130 countries, which are then delivered to clients.
Globhe’s drone flights span various verticals —mainly global health, water, extreme weather events, environment, agriculture, forestry, infrastructure, and renewable energy. Globhe’s customers are businesses, governments, organizations and researchers — all of whom seek Globhe’s high-resolution drone data to increase their own work efficiencies and/or lower costs through applications such as map-making or conducting inspections.
But the difference between companies with their own drone teams and Globhe’s customers is that Globhe customers don’t have to organize and project manage the drones themselves.. They pay Globhe — and then Globhe’s worldwide network of locally-based drone pilots is set to work
And it’s in large part overseen by this one woman. Bruscolini is responsible for organizing and supervising drone operations globally — making sure everything runs each step of the way smoothly, from the drone data order reception to planning, assigning local drone operators, flying, and data delivery to the customer.
Margherita Bruscolini joined The Drone Girl to share insights into managing drone flights in more than 130 countries, what her biggest challenges are, and how Globhe is taking them on to become a superpower in worldwide drone operations.
This interview with Margherita Bruscolini was edited for clarity and length. Do you know an awesome drone girl I should profile? Contact me here.
Drone Girl: A lot of drone companies aim to be global, but they start in one country and slowly expand out. How has Globhe already managed to grow to span more than about 130 countries?
Margherita Bruscolini: For us, it is very important to have a global presence, utilizing innovation to tackle global challenges such as climate change and water risks while empowering local professionals and creating new business opportunities for the community.
DG: It seems like that local focus has actually been a huge driver of your growth, as you can hire local pilots who know what it’s like on the ground — rather than flying out pilots from your headquarters who aren’t actually familiar with the physical landscape, local rules, and culture.
MB: Right. The drone operators at Globhe, whom we call our Crowddroners, are drone professionals with the necessary skills and requirements to capture data and produce accurate and high-resolution drone products for our customers. They know better than us what the requirements are to fly legally in their countries, as well as how to approach the local communities.
DG: I’m sure the local pilots are able to provide enormous support, but there are still some pretty big differences in handling drone operations across all countries. What are some of the standout differences across the more-than 130 countries that Globhe operates in?
MB: Yes, they include:
- Drone laws and regulations
- The process of getting authorization to fly legally
- Hiring pilots
- Tech availability
- Serving customer data needs
- Cultural differences.
DG: Let’s talk about those drone laws, since that seems like a huge one.
MB: Depending on the country, there may be different rules and requirements for operating drones, including obtaining permits or licenses, registering the drone, and following specific flight restrictions.
Getting authorization to fly legally is another difference in drone operations across countries. In some places, the process may be straightforward and quick, while in others, it may be complex and time-consuming.
Additionally, some countries may require special permissions or certifications to operate drones in certain areas or for specific purposes.
DG: Which countries have particularly challenging drone laws to navigate?
MB: In certain countries, it’s quite hard or not possible at all to get authorization to fly drones if you are not working on governmental projects or similar.
One of these is Bhutan, for example, where the use of drones within Bhutanese airspace is strictly prohibited.
Other difficult countries to operate drones are also China, India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, which tend to have a long and complex process to obtain permission — on top of restrictions on where and when drones can be flown.
DG: And let’s talk about the easier countries to fly in.
MB: Some countries that generally have more “relaxed” regulations and may be easier to obtain authorization to fly drones legally include the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. They have clear regulations for drone pilots and a straightforward process for obtaining authorization. And the European Union’s unified EU laws by EASA standardized procedures and processes to apply for permits.
DG: And then, of course, Globhe faces another unique challenge unlike most others — a vast network of drone pilots working for you all around the world.
MB: The availability of skilled drone operators may vary across countries, depending on the demand for drone services and the availability of training programs. Being well-informed and capable of assigning skilled operators can be a challenge, as is making sure they understand the assignment and data quality needs, as well as the deadline.
DG: And it’s not just a big team — it’s possibly the most diverse team you could have. I’m sure it’s rewarding — but not easy, either.
MB: Given how many countries we are active in, this means being in contact with different cultures, backgrounds, languages, and points of view. That can make it challenging to efficiently communicate and supervise the project (especially in areas with limited internet connectivity or limited means of communication).
DG: And it sounds like you are, in fact, hiring drone pilots all around the world.
MB: Any drone operator company or freelance drone operator can sign up to Crowddroning to get paid gigs close to where they live. They add all the information about equipment, skills, and qualification documents such as license and insurance, daily rates, and area of activity.
DG: And if they’re approved to be on your list of pilots, how do they get work?
MB: Once a client places an order for drone data in their area, we notify the operators in the platform that match the project’s requirements, area, and skills. They will get comprehensive instructions for what the client requires, and we provide them with checklists and guidelines to support the operation. Then they fly their drone, upload the data to the Crowddroning platform, and get paid after the data has been accepted.
DG: So with all that, how do you plan a drone flight in a country you’ve never actually been to?
MB: The local professionals know their own countries much better than we do in terms of geography, weather, regulations, and legal limitations to drone flights, so they can plan and execute the data capturing and fieldwork in accordance with them.
We normally keep daily communication with them to easily manage and monitor the operation. We use tools such as DroneDeploy, Agisoft Metashape, CloudCompare, PTGui Pro, and DJI apps to plan the missions, fly, process, and check the quality of drone data.
DG: With so many drone flights under your belt, surely you’ve worked on some especially-rewarding projects. What’s the coolest?
MB: Lately, we have been working with UNICEF and other organizations active in Malawi to tackle flood risks and associated landslides. We supported the UN by deploying several skilled local drone operators to capture and produce high-resolution orthomosaic maps and digital elevation models (such as digital surface models and digital terrain models) at a really high resolution if compared with satellite data.
DG: What do they do with those maps and models?
MB: The data is being used by a flood and hydraulic modeling partner to produce accurate flood models and flood risk maps for the most vulnerable districts to extreme weather events in Malawi.
DG: And some of these don’t have a ton of time for planning. Globhe is capable of emergency response operations.
MB: Yes, for example, we supported the UN and Red Cross search and rescue and impact mapping activities during the emergency response to Cyclone Freddy (editor’s note: that was an exceptionally long-lived, powerful, and deadly storm that traversed the southern Indian Ocean for more than five weeks in February and March 2023). After 24 hours, we deployed eight local drone operators around six districts, starting from the most affected, Blantyre, Malawi.
Projects like this are what drive me to go to work every day.
DG: I’m sure in some places you operate in, people have never seen drones in person before. Are they accepting of them?
MB: We still have quite a long way to go to shift the public’s perception of drones and their applications.
We have been faced just a couple of times with community resistance that made very clear the need for preliminary community sensitization exercises, informing the people on the upcoming drone operations in the area.
What we have seen more, though, is a genuine curiosity from the youth toward drones, with the UAVs and pilots especially attracting the interest of kids.
DG: And it seems like as you’re able to do more projects like the Malawi emergency response operation, people will see the social and economic impacts of drones — in terms of job creation, creation of economic opportunities for local companies, and accessibility. And with that, it feels like the community’s perception toward drones will change.
MB: Right. UAVs are already revolutionizing various industries that want to become more sustainable, including agriculture, forestry, and renewable energy. Understanding the social and economic implications of drones is crucial for maximizing their benefits while minimizing potential negative effects and shifting the common perception in regard to drones.
If you know any awesome drone girls I should profile, please contact me here.