Detroit-based Airspace Link has positioned itself as a provider of increasingly important infrastructure in the burgeoning drone services space, helping operators quickly gain local and federal approval. With $23 million in new support, the company now plans to take its platform to other countries looking to get their drone industry off the ground.
The company’s main offering is an online service that helps anyone who works with UAVs obtain FAA clearance to fly by demonstrating that necessary safety protocols are in place. This process, like any red tape, is extremely difficult for startups and individuals to manage, and even large companies with compliance teams would like it to be simpler.
“The drone industry for out of sight, things like food delivery, is being held back by this,” said CEO Michael Healander. “We all know that drones can do this, but integration into the national infrastructure is lacking. Operators build their own systems to prove they have radar and surveillance systems, to calculate the probability of people crashing, on critical infrastructure… you have to prepare a safety file for the FAA.
Airspace Link partially automates this process and tracks ground infrastructure such as radar coverage, notable other flights and assets in the area, and so on.
“Our goal is to tell the operator, ‘There’s a crop spreader coming into your area, so stand up, and here’s a place to land,'” Healander said. But unlike other companies that market their services as drone pilot software, Airspace Link positions itself as a state and local infrastructure provider.
“Municipalities white-label the Airspace Link platform and say, ‘That’s Michigan’s system.’ You don’t prove your safety case there to the FAA — the state provides that service,” he explained. For a fee, of course, but it’s a convenience fee, not for using the airspace — if you want to do your own paperwork, you can. CFO Bill Johnson thinks local governments are looking for a way to turn this from a line item into a revenue generator.
“Just like how roads are used: we enable economic activity in that region, we enable partners and technological progress. Everyone can benefit from these advances in the ecosystem,” he said.
This is likely to only increase as FAA regulations continue to restrict drone operations, most notably a mandate beginning in September (with fines starting a year later) that all drones broadcast their location. That’s something that promises a lot of revenue for service providers in the industry, and it’s part of why the company is raising money.
“The reason we’re accelerating is because it’s going to be a bit of a land grab for the next four years. And we try to do it before people find out how we’ll do it,” Healander said. That is, building itself into the government’s pipeline as infrastructure rather than selling it to individuals and corporations.
“We’re going to pour the gasoline in a few areas for expansion here in the US, but global expansion is the main reason we’ve brought up the capital. Multiple countries want this kind of thing and drone companies are also going global,” he continued.
As an example, he suggested the UAE, where after years of lax drone regulations, the country suddenly banned all drone operations a few months ago pending new policies. Emulating the FAA (which has overseen most drone research and trade) and companies like Airspace Link is the easiest and fastest way forward for these countries, who, like any state or city, want the capabilities of UAV services. explore.
Airspace Link has partnered with Thales, a global airspace monitoring company, and ESRI, the location data giant, to ensure they can roll out a product in places like Dubai, which, despite the demand they represent, are not easy to adapt and locate. to be. product on.
The $23.1 million B round was led by Avanta Ventures, the VC arm of CSAA Insurance Group — which represents another category interested in easing red tape and quantifying risk. Ultimately, something like Airspace Link may contribute to or be a requirement for insurance policies. The round also included investments from Morningside, Caprock, Altos Ventures, Indicator Ventures, 2048 Ventures, Detroit Venture Partners and Thales Group.
The company is hiring quickly, nearly 50 employees now, and expects to grow even faster as it moves toward the next stage of its ambitions. “If we want to go global, we’re going to have to build a global team,” Healander said.