If you’re in Canada, odds are you’ve heard of Volatus Aerospace by now.
And that’s not surprising. The company has grown, and quickly, through a number of strategic mergers and acquisitions. As a result, it’s now offering a wide variety of drone services across multiple sectors – and in several countries.
That growth, and the selection of companies, have been highly strategic.
The companies Volatus has acquired are now part of The Volatus Aerospace Group. Collectively, they offer a broad swath of specialized drone services, ranging from industrial inspections, digital twins and heavy-lift capacity through to sales and one-off aerial photography and videography services. Plus, parent company Volatus is also in the game. It will soon be operating a manufacturing facility at the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport, producing two different UAVs. And it has ambitious plans in the heavy-lift drone cargo sector.
The company’s CEO is Glen Lynch, who enjoyed a long and successful career in the traditional aerospace world prior to entering the UAV space. Here’s a look at the firm’s overall offerings, taken from its website:
That’s a pretty ambitious palette. But Volatus has been very targeted in its acquisitions. It has focused on companies that were already specialists in their own respective niches. Pull them together under a single umbrella and you’ve got the makings of synergy – where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
You’ve also got the groundwork for “One-stop shopping” when it comes to drone service provision, and even the purchase of certain drones. It’s the only company in Canada we’re aware of that has taken this approach at scale. As a result, Volatus has quickly become a household name, at least in those Canadian households familiar with the UAV scene.
Before we get to our interview with Volatus CEO Glen Lynch, let’s find out more.
What’s under the hood?
Here’s a brief look at the companies within the Volatus portfolio.
Canadian UAV Services. The Ontario-based company has been in business for seven years (as of early 2022) and offers a number of services. They include: Inspection, surveys, GIS, aggregate mining data capture and more.
Connexicore. The Philadephia-based company offers a wide range of professional drone services. Connexicore operates somewhat like a hub, connecting jobs with its North American network of 1,000 freelance pilots. Those pilots fly with certification under the FAA’s Part 107.
M3 Drone Services. Based in Manitoba, M3 provides UAV services across a broad number of sectors, as well as training. The company offers its services Canada-wide.
OmniView Tech. This firm is the largest drone repair centre in Canada. The company distributes DJI products to retailers and sells them directly, as well as other drones and specialized sensors.
UAViation Aerial Solutions. With offices in Vancouver and Edmonton, UAViation provides a range of aerial services, including photography, photogrammetry, LiDAR etc. Founded in 2015, its website says the firm has carried out some 4,000 flights, logging 1000+ flying hours in more than 500 locations.
MVT Geo-Solutions Inc. Volatus has announced an agreement to acquire the Quebec-based firm. According to a news release, its “services include data collection, processing, and analysis to a variety of industries including civil engineering, transport, hydrography, natural resource management, forestry, and public safety.”
Partner Jet/Volatus Aviation. This charter passenger jet and aircraft management firm is located at Pearson International Airport. It was the initial starting point for what has become the Volatus Aerospace Group. The company will also play a role in future Volatus plans, such as heavy lift cargo drones, some of which would require aircraft runways. The company owns and operates the Citation X jet seen below.
Glen Lynch, CEO
With all of that background, we’ll now hop into our Q&A with Glen Lynch, Volatus CEO.
Q: What’s the elevator pitch for Volatus?
A: To understand the company, you need to understand where we came from. It’s a company that kind of grew from the aviation industry. When we looked at the drone market, we realized there was an exploding opportunity – basically an industry that was rocketing out of a nascent phase – but there were no operators of any real scale. It was basically an industry that was being served by small businesses, with the exception of companies like InDro. Very capable small business, but small business nonetheless. That’s what we saw as being the opportunity.
So what we did was, basically accumulated a number of businesses through M&A (merger and acquisition) activities that had two characteristics: A strategic location and a complementary capability. And then we consolidated them using a roll-up strategy to create what’s now one of the larger fully-integrated drone services and drone technology companies. And that’s basically who we are. We cover now all of Canada, all of the United States, and we’re starting to have some penetration now in Latin America – we have an office in Bogota, an office in Lima Peru, and business activities as far south as Chile.
Q: The Volatus Aerospace Group holds a number of companies that are all specialists in specific areas. Could you provide more details about how you selected these companies?
A: Once you identify the first company – the principle of that company usually has other companies they’re interested in. So it becomes somewhat of a referral, because the relationships already exist. And the one thing that’s particularly core: When you have an M&A strategy that’s as active as ours, we need to be able to acquire companies and retain the leadership. One of the things I’m most proud of with Volatus is that we’ve retained 100 per cent of our leadership through the acquisitions – and that allows us to scale more rapidly. Well, to be able to retain leadership there has to be a cultural fit. Oftentimes, favourable referrals from people who are already fitting with the group almost becomes a natural screening process…
At the end of the day, we’re looking for good fits. And we’ve been really fortunate to find some really talented individuals that have built some really great companies and have shared the vision of Volatus and we’ve been able to entice them to join us.
Q: A little over a year ago, Volatus wasn’t exactly a household name. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the drone world who hasn’t heard of you. How did you scale so quickly?
A: I would say that probably it’s something I’d love to take credit for. But the reality is, we have some really talented people, people like Rob Walker, who’s a well-educated, award-winning marketing professional. And we created an umbrella branding strategy, so at the end we’re pushing a common brand. We’re very careful not to lose the brand equity in our subordinate brands but we push out a single brand proposition, I would say, throughout the marketplace. And, again, it’s really driven by the people that become part of Volatus: They become proud of the brand, they become associated with the brand, and the brand naturally grows. On top of that we’ve hired a very large business development and sales team that work right now across Canada and the United States. And actually our office in Lima Peru has three business development people in that office as well. So we’re out there. We participate in a lot of trade shows. We spend a fair amount of money in marketing, but we try to be very, very balanced in our approach to investment and general brand awareness. And we really target places that we can generate revenues today. So we keep an eye on the blue sky, we prepare for the blue sky, but we very much focus on the places that we can actually achieve revenue activities in the near term.
Q: You and your VP both have an extensive background in traditional aviation. What advantage does that give you in the drone world?
A: Luc Massé, who’s executive Vice-President, he was one of the driving forces in what is now one of largest aircraft companies in Canada. Funny enough, he was one of my competitors for many years in that space. But there are a few things, I guess. It helps us have a very comfortable awareness of the realities of operating in a regulated environment.
When we’re collecting data, that’s one type of service. When you’re carrying something that belongs to somebody else? That becomes a cargo service. By definition that’s a commercial air service. So there’s a whole new range of requirements there, for example economic authority as well as just operating authority. As you know, InDro was one of the first companies to do this, they have a Canadian Transportation Agency Cargo License. And right now, to the best of my knowledge – I may be missing somebody – there are only three companies in Canada that actually hold that economic authority: (InDro), Drone Delivery Canada and ourselves at Volatus Aviation, which was formerly Partner Jet. So it really helps us position for the future, having that understanding of aviation, because largely on the cargo side, we kind of know where the industry is headed. There’s a convergence there, between manned and unmanned aircraft.
Q: Volatus is pretty diversified in the drone world. Is there a particular area you’re involved with that you’re most excited about for the future?
A: I would say our major areas of interest in 2022, other than continuing to scale our existing business..in terms of new growth areas it would perhaps be drone cargo activities. And drone cargo for Volatus means ship-to-shore, shore-to-ship, ship-to-ship, remote communities, inter-island type activities: Things that we can do either because they’re eligible under the current regulatory framewok, or actually they can build a risk profile that will allow us to get authorization to operate under special circumstances. So that’s a big area of focus for us this year, we’re putting a lot of investment – as you’ll see in the near future – in that space.
And the other one is in public safety. Drones as First Responders is becoming. a major thing; there’s literally tens of thousands of law enforcement agencies, let alone other public safety agencies like the emergency health response units, firefighting, Search & Rescue, all of those sorts of things. So those are two big areas of focus for us in 2022.
Note: Soon after our interview, Volatus announced its intention to purchase a planned Natilus N3.8T Large Remotely Piloted Cargo Drone. The twin-engine turboprop blended-wing aircraft has a maximum gross takeoff weight of 8,618 kilograms (about 19,000 pounds) and is capable of carrying 3,855 kilograms of cargo (8,500 pounds). This machine, slated to be delivered in 2025, will obviously require traditional airport infrastructure and significant advances in Unmanned Traffic Management. There will also be some fairly high regulatory hurdles to be cleared in order to operate a vehicle of this scale.
“The recent amalgamation with Partner Jet Inc. gives us the commercial infrastructure to operate drone cargo services, and the addition of Natilus aircraft establishes the long-term direction for our aviation division,” said Lynch in this post announcing the news. Here’s the Natilus promotional video, which offers a CGI version of the planned craft:
Q: You were listed recently on the TSX (VOL). What does this listing mean for the Volatus group?
A: Getting to the public listing was one journey, but now the heavy lifting begins. If we handle ourselves correctly, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate good governance and a serious, solid, well-run corporation. So that’s up to us to deliver on that. But the second thing that it does, it gives us access to capital markets, which allows us to – especially as the company grows in value – allows us to access capital that will continue to allow us to grow through acquisitions or fund organic growth internally through ramp-up of inventory and those sorts of things. So that’s the primary objective is really to give us the mechanism to scale.
Volatus has emerged quickly and appears to have significant momentum. In addition to its other operations, the company is currently setting up a large manufacturing facility at the Lake Simcoe Airport, where it will be producing two UAVS. Glen Lynch, as CEO, has both the business and traditional aviation background to guide the company as the industry moves toward the world of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), where new types of short-range aircraft will be sharing the skies with drones. We wish the Volatus team well.