Elevating Global Standards Newfoundland upstart Altomaxx takes lead in global drone industry
Altomaxx has grown to become North America's first independent drone certification provider. We use advanced drones to serve the oil, gas, and utility industries with unique technologies and international services.

They started just four years ago, in 2018, with a vision to be the best drone service provider in North America.

Since Steve Priestley and Christopher Haley launched Altomaxx, the St. John’s-based company has carved out a niche as the first independent provider of certification for the drone industry.

The way Priestley tells it, he and Haley went looking for certification for their company and realized no one was providing that service. They decided they might be able to fill the gap.

Altomaxx was already building its reputation as a high-end provider of unmanned aircraft systems to the oil and gas and utilities industries.

Priestley and Haley had both enlisted drones in the past for their work in the environmental sector.

And they realized there were very few reputable companies with the high-end technology needed to service that industry.

So they decided to start a drone business of their own, building it from the ground up from Newfoundland.

Altomaxx uses high end drones — some costing more than a tricked out pickup truck and equipped with infrared sensors and thermal imaging — to service government agencies and heavy industry.

They do aerial inspection of power lines and wind turbines, scan underground infrastructure using ground penetrating radar to help engineers assess sites for large construction projects, detect methane gas leaks in natural gas pipelines or at refineries and use thermal imaging to scan the woods for lost hikers.

We’re not talking about consumer drones here that you can pick up at an electronics store.

“Often we’re flying six-figures (equipment) through the sky. Our drones are enterprise level drones that are much bigger and allow us to do so much more,” said Priestley.

“A lot of the technologies we are using, we are the only ones within North America, or even the Western Hemisphere, that offer these types of technologies which is why we get contracted out for international projects and large projects across North America.”

The health care field is also embracing drone technology, making headlines in the past year by using drones to transport organs.

On March 22, an American drone company announced it had a contract to deliver medical packages to the Ukraine using its search and rescue drones capable of carrying payloads of up to 35 pounds.

Industry Standards

It wasn’t until 2019, however, that the International Standards Organization (ISO) established an industry-wide benchmark of standards for safe drone operations.

Until the publication of ISO 21384-2, it was unchartered territory with no recognized standards to guide the operation of unmanned aircraft.

“There were a lot of companies flying recklessly, flying over people and flying over critical infrastructure,” said Priestley.

The ISO standard was the first step to improvement.

Priestley said Altomaxx was eager to get ISO certification.

“We wanted to be the leaders for a reason because we wanted our clientele to know that we are operating at the highest standard possible.”

Problem was, there weren’t any accredited organizations with the expertise needed to certify drone operators.

Altomaxx realized they had a huge opportunity.

The company decided to add certification services to its business.

The pandemic, said Priestley, gave them a window of time to pursue that goal.

“It was the perfect time for us to lay the groundwork.”

In February, after two years of paperwork and due diligence, Altomaxx received its accreditation from the Standards Council of Canada (SCC).

“We can now certify other drone programs anywhere in the world,” Priestley said.

The process of attaining accreditation, he added, allowed Altomaxx to learn and fine tune its own policies and procedures.

The company also trains others, including police, firefighters and search and rescue agencies, on how to use drones for tactical operations.

“To fly a drone in a lot of situations you actually need a (unmanned aircraft) pilot certificate,” explained Priestley. “We are an accredited flight school … providing those pilot certificates for private industry and government agencies.”

It’s led to a fast growth for this relatively new company.

Altomaxx has 18 employees and they are still hiring, with a strategy to open offices across Canada and internationally, building it from the ground up on an island at the most eastern point of Canada.

To those who might be caught in the mindset that it’s harder to start something from Newfoundland and Labrador because we’re “too remote” or “too expensive” Priestley chuckles.

“Newfoundland and Labrador has a lot of untapped talent. There’s a reason we’re here and we’re growing our workforce here.

He points out that in the oil and gas industry there were already people trained for the operation of underwater ROVs, a skill set similar to what’s needed for drone operation.

Most of their employees are from Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We have a pilots from places like Grand Bank that are travelling the world now and leading the way on some of these expeditions.”

As Altomaxx begins to capture opportunities from its status as an ISO-accredited operation, the benefits will also spill over to others.

“We’re hoping to potentially double our workforce in the next 19 months,” said Priestley.

Resource: saltwire.com

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