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From industrial services to drone light shows with FlyBy Guys

We had the opportunity to sit down with Stephen Sutton, the CEO of FlyBy Guys, during Amsterdam Drone Week to hear more about how they mix the pleasure of drone light shows with the financial backing of industrial drone services. Stephen introduced us to FlyBy Guys by explaining how they’ve developed an entire suite of products and services focused on drones, including aerial data visualisation, which enables them to unlock valuable insights from above. 

This allows the team at FlyBy Guys to begin their plan to redefine the way organisations do data acquisition and analysis through the use of advanced drone technology that is an unlocker to harness previously inaccessible data, which can help gain the upper hand in hyper-competitive markets. 

Other industries also have to implement drone operations after realising how much added value these technologies can provide, including agriculture, construction, manufacturing, first responders and logistics, among others. In each of the industries listed above, organisations have already started to see significant time-savings and a reduction in operational costs and risks associated with data capture in difficult-to-reach locations. 

Revenue generation by mixing drone light shows with industrial services

When we asked Stephen about how FlyBy Guys has managed to grow without outside funding from investors since its founding over 5 years ago, he said that inspections were the primary aim for future revenue generation for the company, although they weren’t currently bringing in the primary source of revenue at the moment. 

The potential, however, is there, with huge growth being seen in the industry within the past few months alone. This pairs well with the FlyBy Guys' attitude towards success, which is deeply rooted in action and execution rather than just ambitious planning, which has positioned them as an active player in the drone industry ecosystem. It’s also why they’re ready to jump into the expanding inspection market and take advantage of increasing demand in the future. 

FlyBy Guys has been conducting drone light shows since December 2020. With over 200 flights of experience, the team has successfully executed stunning drone light shows in various global destinations, including Dubai, Togo, Indonesia and Taiwan. These shows vary in duration and scale, with up to 1,500 drones being used per show. 

Despite the spectacle and excitement surrounding drone light shows, Stephen asserts that the company's strategic direction leans more toward industrial applications for growth and scalability. The light shows, though labour-intensive and stressful, are a passion project for the team and provide immense satisfaction. Stephen described the shows as an enjoyable endeavour that brings joy to many people and creates lasting memories, thus fostering additional public acceptance of drone technology.

Drone operators in Finland and the regulatory environment they face

The Finnish drone industry is a remarkable example of how a supportive regulatory environment and strong collaboration between different entities can foster growth and innovation. The regulatory atmosphere has been incredibly enabling rather than obstructive, which has helped many organisations succeed. The Finnish drone ecosystem is at the heart of this success, comprising a supportive business community and accommodating regulatory bodies such as Traficom. 

The co-creation between various stakeholders has enabled businesses like FlyBy Guys to generate enough revenue to avoid pushing for investors. As a testament to this, most FlyBy Guys’ operations now take place outside Finland's borders, underlining the scale that these companies have achieved. However, the commitment to Finland remains strong, with the head office still based in the country, maintaining a solid relationship with the authorities and contributing to the local business landscape.

To further accelerate the development and deployment of drones, the Finnish ecosystem has established an additional six drone test areas. Under the Finnish UAV Ecosystem (FUAVE) project, which brings together 85 organisations, these test areas provide the necessary platform for technological advances in drone services. Ranging from Arctic testing in Oulu to forest research in Evo, these areas offer different areas of application for drones. The Test Areas have been created through the joint efforts of Traficom, equipment manufacturers, other airspace users and local authorities, with safety and regulatory compliance being paramount. This initiative promises to facilitate the testing of drone technology now and in the future, while also acting as a hub for drone-based remote sensing research.

The expansion of the Finnish drone technology sector is supported by significant research and development efforts by several key players. Lift, a new aerospace R&D centre and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are notable contributors to this progress. 

Not only are they striving to improve the longevity and range of drone flights, but they are also placing great emphasis on public acceptance of drones. Researchers are focusing on areas such as drone autonomy, battery development, resistance to Arctic conditions and emergency response. They are also addressing the challenges of sharing airspace between manned and unmanned aircraft. Through these extensive research initiatives, Finland has become a world leader in drone research, with high-quality research and a thriving industry bringing drone technology to market.

Moving into the international drone industry

By their very nature, the operations FlyBy Guys carry out on a global scale have both positive and negative effects. However, their most important message to regulators globally is to ensure a balance between all the member states involved, be it Germany, France, Italy or others. This balance is crucial when it comes to applying for approvals, as each country has different levels of complexity in its approval process. Achieving balance and harmonisation between these different regulations is therefore, a prerequisite for smooth cross-border business operations for smaller organisations who depend on quick and agile movement to support their day-to-day business operations without external funding.

On the other hand, if a conducive business environment isn't achieved, the very existence of the industry could be threatened since revenue generation will be proven to only work with the most extensive of funding. Even when business does take place, it is often more expensive due to the cost of obtaining permits, which gradually becomes a drain on resources. To offset such challenges, our focus remains on generating our own revenue. Indeed, self-sufficiency is essential to the survival of the industry, ensuring that we can meet basic needs such as paying salaries and office expenses. Of course, it requires constant vigilance and hard work, but despite the inherent challenges, it is doable and rewarding, Stephen joked with us that the main cost was more than just a few grey hairs!

As for Amsterdam Drone Week, Stephen said it is a fantastic platform for networking and reconnecting with people he’s interacted with online. However, his main expectation from the event is to see more participation from other industries, such as oil and gas, telecoms, etc. It's important for operators and hardware manufacturers to engage with these sectors to give a deeper understanding of what we do as an industry as well as an ecosystem. While it's wonderful to see everyone here, the industry needs to grow, and we need to do it together. The current focus is very much regulatory, which is necessary but not sufficient. It's important to remember that if you don't have the business, then the point of regulation becomes moot. We need to get the balance right, and Stephen believes we can.

About Stephen Sutton

Meet Stephen Sutton, group CEO, UAV specialist and consultant at FlyBy Guys, a Finland-based company specialising in commercial drone operations. Since its inception in 2018, FlyBy Guys has carried out a wide range of operations, including tower and construction site inspections, thermal inspections, traffic management analysis, and even drone light shows around the world.

Stephen's journey with FlyBy Guys began when he was working at a software company and began to explore drone photography. His knack for it led to a conversation with his business partner Chris that led to the creation of FlyBy Guys. From then on, Stephen dedicated his career to this innovative venture. Under his leadership, FlyBy Guys has focused on data, aiming to globalise its services while applying AI to its drone operations. The company worked with Intel during the pandemic and conducted drone operations in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. More recently, it has shifted back to more inspection work, particularly mass inspections for mobile operators.

In addition to his role at FlyBy Guys, Stephen is also an advisor to the board of Anarky Labs and a full-time board member of RPAS Finland. He is also Vice President of the World UAV Federation - Finnish Chapter. 

About FlyBy Guys

FlyBy Guys is changing the way we capture video and images from above the ground. Committed to breaking new ground, they offer clients unique solutions for aerial data capture that were previously thought impossible.

FlyBy Guys use their top-of-the-range drones to provide a range of services, including capturing stunning aerial video footage, taking high-resolution photographs and creating detailed 3D models. The versatility of their services provides clients with novel and creative opportunities that stand out in today's visually saturated world.

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