Drone Industry

6 Reasons Enterprise Drone Programs are Buying into the AUVSI Trusted Operator Program™ (TOP)

By now, you’ve probably heard about the AUVSI Trusted Operator Program™ (TOP). The Trusted Operator Program™ is a UAS community initiative designed to identify industry best practices, set an expected code of conduct, and professionalize the drone pilot network. Spearheaded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and developed in concert with UAS industry leaders, TOP provides a standardized way to evaluate competency of both individual remote pilots and UAS service providers.

Trusted Operator Program Levels 1, 2 and 3.

As a TOP Level 3 Training Provider and early-adopter partner in this program, we at DARTdrones have been involved in many important conversations with our clients about how the TOP program might benefit their organization. From these conversations, we have identified six reasons why many enterprise drone program managers are buying into TOP.

1. It’s a Differentiator

With thousands of Certified Part 107 Remote Pilots across the country, many of whom claim to be experts in everything unmanned, it can be very difficult to identify the truly qualified and experienced pilots. A number of our clients utilize contract pilots, yet the managers who hire them are unsure how to accurately vet their qualifications for a job. With a program like TOP, enterprise drone managers can quickly and effectively cut through the sea of Part 107 pilots to identify the best of the best.

2. Provides a True Industry Standard

The Trusted Operator Program™ is not just one organization, one “industry expert”, or one company claiming to have created the Industry Standard. The extensive TOP development process brought together over 200 industry leaders to create the consensus standards found in the TOP Protocol Certification Manual (PCM). Although many of these organizations and individuals had different approaches and goals, they came together to develop a true industry standard.

All TOP certified organizations go through a rigorous assessment of their internal sUAS programs conducted by a certification body. As a certified TOP Level 3 Training Provider, DARTdrones was evaluated on over 160 requirements within the following categories:

  • Management Systems
  • Operational Procedures
  • Training Program
  • Maintenance and Inspection
  • Safety Management System

This third-party vetting, and the level of detail it encompasses, ensures that all TOP certified organizations are truly operating at the highest level of safety and compliance.
commercial uav training

3. Fills in the “Missing Pieces” of Part 107

At conferences, industry events, and in numerous articles, the “missing pieces” of Part 107 are often mentioned as an ongoing issue. So, what exactly are these “missing pieces”? The industry leaders who put together the TOP program spent months working together to answer that question. The Remote Pilot Exam does test some important aviation topics, but most certified drone pilots would agree that many of the practical aspects of flying a drone are overlooked.

In TOP Level 1 training, remote pilots are trained and quizzed on their understanding of these missing pieces. Every TOP Training Provider takes a slightly different approach to covering this content. At DARTdrones, we cover this information in a series of 14 online scenario-based micro courses which we collectively call the Real World Flight Planning and Execution Program. This course covers the practical real world understanding and application of:

  • Airspace
  • Weather Assessment
  • Site Assessment
  • Risk Assessment and Management
  • Equipment Care and Maintenance
  • Battery Care and Safety
  • Utilizing Checklists
  • Emergency Procedures Response
  • Overcoming Disorientation
  • Aviation Communications
  • Visual Observer and Crew Best Practices
  • Operational Safety
  • Flight Principles and Performance
  • Air Law


4. Provides a Vetted Flight Assessment

Many enterprise drone programs already have an internal training program for their pilots. Clients continually ask if we can help them build a flight assessment to finalize this training. With TOP Level 2 and 3, a very clear flight assessment has already been created that ensures TOP certified drone pilots are safe, competent operators.

During the TOP Practical Flight Assessment process, pilots are first evaluated in a question-answer session on their knowledge of regulations, environmental elements, navigation elements, emergency response, and human factor elements. Remote pilots must then demonstrate to the assessor their ability to safely and effectively execute pre-flight planning, systems checks, a safety briefing, normal flight procedures, manual flight maneuvers, abnormal and emergency procedures, crew resource management, and operational compliance.

The result is a comprehensive assessment of a remote pilot’s practical flight skill and operational practices


5. Functional Area Breakout

During the development of TOP, many people asked how this program could be relevant to sUAS missions across so many different industries. This concern was addressed with the inclusion of Functional Areas. Experts in each area were highly involved in the development of the protocol standards for their respective vertical. Not only has this approach allowed for true experts in each functional area to identify their specific needs, it has also brought some interesting industry specific organizations into the TOP development team.

Currently TOP Level 3 breaks out the following functional areas:

  • Agriculture
  • Environmental Services
  • Infrastructure and Utility Inspections
  • Petroleum, Oil and Gas Inspections
  • Public Safety Operations
  • Training Providers

Additional functional areas will be added to the above list as the TOP program and drone industry as a whole continues to mature.
Part 107 Drone Certification

6. Improves Internal Pilot Team Buy In

Many enterprise drone programs are selecting drone pilots from within their current employee base. However, processing these individuals through the required training and certification can at times drag on due to the fact it this is typically a collateral duty for these employees. In some organizations, TOP certification is being used as an incentive to motivate internal drone pilots to prioritize their drone responsibilities.

There are some very interesting conversations taking place behind the scenes regarding TOP program implementation within some of the nation’s largest drone programs. It’s going to take some time, but TOP is well positioned to be adopted as the industry standard.


About DARTdrones and the Trusted Operator Program™

As an early adopter of AUVSI’s Trusted Operator Program™, DARTdrones offers comprehensive, online and in-person curriculum for TOP Level 1 and TOP Level 2 Remote Pilot Certification training.
TOP Level 1

Becoming a Level 1 TOP Operator™ requires all drone pilots to complete the following:

  • 14 Online Micro Courses
  • Proof of Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate

Upon completing the above requirements, the newly designated TOP Operator will receive the following:

  • A digital copy of the TOP Protocol Certification Manual
  • AUVSI TOP Level 1 Certificate
  • AUVSI TOP Level 1 Pin
  • Listed on TOP Operator™ Directory as TOP Level 1 Pilot

TOP Level 2

To become certified as a Level 2 TOP Operator™, all drone pilots must complete the following:

  • TOP Level 1 Certification
  • 1 Day In-Person Instructor Led Training
  • Hands-on Flight Evaluation with DARTdrones Instructor

Upon completing the above requirements, the newly designated TOP Operator™ will receive the following:

  • AUVSI TOP Level 2 Certificate
  • AUVSI TOP Level 2 Pin
  • Listed on TOP Operator™ Directory as Level 2 Pilot

DARTdrones is the nation’s leader in drone training, program development and consultation, offering online and in-person courses in 40+ cities across the United States. DARTdrones takes pride in their comprehensive curriculum, developed by a former US Navy Helicopter pilot, as well as their 40+ flight instructors who are all manned and unmanned aircraft pilots. Call 800-264-3907 or email the DARTdrones Team at [email protected] to learn more.

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