Avtrain: Helping drone operators navigate safety and compliance

24 Jul 2023

CEO and founder Julie Garland. Image: Avtrain

Based in Dublin’s Guinness Enterprise Centre, Avtrain has just launched a €1.5m fundraising round to help its drone-focused tech take off.

Julie Garland is a woman of many talents. Having started her career as an aircraft maintenance engineer at Aer Lingus back in the 1990s, she has at various times been an airline training captain, a lecturer in technical aircraft management and even a barrister-at-law. She also served as director of compliance for Norwegian Air International.

Her most recent passion, however, emerged after she was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug about four years ago, when she founded drone training and certification start-up Avtrain and became its CEO.

Earlier this month, we spoke to some of Ireland’s leading individuals in the drones space about how the technology is being regulated. Like all things regulation, the process involves a complex interplay of government, business and certified third parties finding common ground over which drones can hover safely and efficiently.

By providing extensive training, certification and documentation services to drone pilots and operators in Ireland, Avtrain has been making this process a little easier for all stakeholders for the past three years. Now, Garland wants to digitise these processes to minimise legal turbulence.

“If it is dull, dirty or dangerous, then a drone should be doing it,” Garland says. “At Avtrain, we want to encourage prolific drone operations and keep the skies safe through the highest standards of training, certification and regulatory compliance verification.”

Compliance verification platform

Garland says that while her clients – including the Irish Coast Guard, Inland Fisheries Ireland and Manna Drone Delivery – are not “generally aviators”, they want to share the same airspace as traditional aviation. Avtrain hopes to bridge this knowledge gap.

The start-up now has a compliance verification platform in the pipeline that will generate standard, regulatory compliant documentation and risk assessments for operators along with the training programmes required for pilots.

“This will allow the industry to have confidence their documentation and processes are regulatory compliant and significantly reduce the burden on national aviation authorities and regulators who issue the final certification for a drone operator,” she explains.

“They won’t have to manually check every document that is submitted to them. This means that time and cost for an approval is reduced, and the standard of applications is dramatically improved.”

Garland hopes to introduce a subscription model for clients using the Avtrain platform to ensure “not just initial, but ongoing regulatory compliance”.

Eyes on the UK and US

But it’s not just her past experiences that bring value to Avtrain on its journey to becoming the company of choice for drone pilots and operators. Garland is also currently vice-chair of the Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland and sits on the board of directors of JEDA, the Joint European Drone Associations as the Irish representative.

Through her position in JEDA, Garland is also a representative on JARUS, the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems where she is vice-chair of its industry stakeholder’s body steering committee. She is also a member of the board of advisors for the Estonian Aviation Academy and a mentor for the Royal Aeronautical Society in the UK.

Her pan-European industry reach makes it possible for Avtrain to expand business outside Ireland and bring it to more parts of the EU, where there is a uniform regulatory environment. Avtrain is also part of a €5.5m EU consortium based in Shannon developing a flight ecosystem for drones.

Alongside the moves in the EU, Avtrain has plans for the UK and further afield. “We will also replicate this for the UK regulatory environment to demonstrate we can facilitate differing regulatory criteria and still produce regulatory compliant documentation. Then we will expand the model to include other regulatory environments such as the US.”

With a team of four, Avtrain is a growing business that has started making a profit and bagging new clients on both sides of the Atlantic. Garland said the start-up has launched a €1.5m fundraising round to help build the software required to help the platform take off.

Working from the Guinness Enterprise Centre in Dublin, where Avtrain is based, Garland says that the biggest challenge around running a budding business is “not having enough hours in the day”.

“A start-up is all-consuming and a huge learning curve. There are always going to be areas where you do not have expertise so identifying those areas early and plugging those holes with external expertise until you can afford to have full-time internal expertise is critical.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic