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Grand Forks-based SkySkopes recognized as top drone service provider in the country

Matt Dunlevy, president and CEO of SkySkopes, credits collaborative nature of the industry in Grand Forks for much of his success.

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Matt Dunlevy, president and CEO of drone service provider SkySkopes, points to a board illustrating utility inspections work the company performs around the county. (Adam Kurtz/Grand Forks Herald)
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Grand Forks-based SkySkopes has been named the top drone service provider in the country by market analyst, Drone Industry Insights.

The announcement was made in mid-October by online magazine Drone Biz. SkySkopes was recognized out of 750 global drone companies for its size, growth, industry development and market share. SkySkopes continues to add satellite branches across the country as it focuses on its core missions of utility line inspection and data collection for the gas and oil industry, while looking to future missions including forest fire monitoring and suppression.

“We are feeling very good that, in essence, the approach we've taken has been legitimized,” said Matt Dunlevy, president and CEO of SkySkopes. “I really have to appreciate what Drone Industry Insights came up with, but also just the day in and day out efforts of the professional staff at SkySkopes, and always making sure that they're able to deliver to the clients.”

Being ranked the No. 1 drone service provider in the country came after a tense moment earlier in the coronavirus pandemic when Dunlevy worried his company might not be able to operate in other states, but that concern was alleviated when SkySkopes’ customers had it certified as an essential service provider. Doing so allowed the company to carry out the work of inspecting utility lines in California, from the company’s Los Angeles office, that has become even more critical in the wake of recent forest fires that have plagued the western part of the nation.

“We're hired by the utility companies out there to go and make sure that their poles aren't the ones that are needing maintenance, so much so to the point that, if they don't get maintenance, they can spark and cause that next big wildfire,” Dunlevy told the Herald.

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Wildfire mitigation is an area that Dunleve said he considers one of the best-use cases for unmanned aircraft in the current regulatory environment. The technology is readily available to monitor those fires, and future missions will likely involve fire suppression activities, he said.

In North Dakota, the regulatory environment is poised for change as work continues to progress on a statewide unmanned aerial systems network, which, when completed, will allow for flying beyond the visual line of sight. It’s the keystone in the drone industry that will allow companies to take their work to the next level in drone flight activity.

For SkySkopes, that will mean not having to “leapfrog” crews from worksite to worksite to monitor energy infrastructure. Dunlevy credits the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and the North Dakota UAS ecosystem with not only advancing research on that network, but with allowing his company to flourish.

“It just so happens that their partnership, their counsel and collaborative nature are reasons why we have been able to rise through the ranks,” Dunlevy said.

But not all drone missions need to happen beyond the visual line of sight. In April, SkySkopes partnered with UND’s Center for Innovation and Research Institute for Autonomous Systems to combat future pandemics, by using drones to spray virucide inside stadiums and on playground equipment. The company has flown research missions at local parks and inside the Ralph Engelstad Arena and the Alerus Center.

Those research missions continue to push the bounds of drone-industry development and is one of the reasons Drone Industry Insights’ chose to recognize SkySkopes. Dunlevy is quick to pass on that recognition to SkySkope crews across the country.

“It's a testament to the pilots and to the professional staff that we have, and that's what I want people to see in this ranking,” he said.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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