Families who fly together

Written by Russ Benning

When I got the brief for this month’s cover story I was looking forward to getting started; ‘Local commercial drone pilot.’

I’ve been into drones since the first Mavic Pro came out over six years ago. I love them. I love flying them, I love exploring with them and most of all, I love that I can literally elevate my photography and give me another perspective.

I’m also a bit of a tech nerd, so I’m very interested in this corner of the future. Coming from the photography side of this emerging technology, I had only a minimal grasp on what was possible with drones from a commercial perspective.

Introducing this month’s guest, Damian Pressnall, owner and operator of ‘Extended Vision Drone Services’. A man of many hats, hearing about his work history it becomes clear that this man has truly dabbled. With more careers than seems fitting for one person’s lifetime, he shares with me all his previous gigs and talks a little into each. I’m struck by the variety as much as the volume.

Focusing mainly on the farming sector, the company primarily offers mapping and spraying services, with the intention of expanding more into the thermal and infrared space.

During our conversation Damian shares, “it’s almost like you could bring up any conversation and say, well drones could do this.” He goes on to share how not only can drones do a certain job, but for the most part, they can do it more safely and more efficiently than current methods.

He gives a plethora of examples, and my inner child was grinning at the win-win outcomes this exciting industry provides. Some of the most exciting applications I will share below.

Access: Drones can get to places traditional machinery cannot. This could be due to inclement weather, damage to property, sloping landscapes etc. With a maximum payload of 80 kilograms, cargo such as tree saplings can be directly delivered to conservation plantations in sheer parts of a landscape creating opportunities that would otherwise be impossible.

Efficiency: Due to the precise nature of using drones, much less crop spray is required. Damian explained that in some instances, they will use less than 50% less of the chemicals used with the same kill rate. The downforce of the drone’s propellers also creates some movement in the crops allowing for more comprehensive coverage of sprays.

Safety: The aircraft being remote piloted removes the need for a physical pilot in a helicopter. It also minimises risks in dangerous to reach areas, or areas with known predators such as crocodiles or poisonous snakes, and even disease carrying insects.

A recurrent theme I heard when listening to Damian speak, was one of ethics. I resonated with this part of his message, respecting his willingness to spend extra money on higher quality or more sustainable chemicals or to turn away work that’s not aligned with the company’s moral compass.
Although Damian is a serial businessman at his core, he admits that the ‘fun factor’ is definitely an enjoyable part of the work. “Every time [the drone] takes off I just look at it and think, wow.”
Timing was on our side the day of the interview, giving me the opportunity to meet Damian’s daughter and co-pilot, Summer. Damian admits that without Summer’s interest, the company would not be where it is today.

Without a second set of hands, Damian would have been unable to look into the top end of the industry and purchase more toys (sorry, ‘tools’) with a much bigger footprint, capable of doing much bigger jobs. Spraying and delivery were made possible.

Around two years ago, our duo read some articles about the emergence of this industry, including an article on another Father/Daughter team who were doing the work.

“Is this something you’d want to do?” He asked.

“Hell yes!” She replied.

I wanted to know more and narrowed down on her motivations to get involved. “There were a lot of reasons I wanted to get into it. First of all; drones! Who doesn’t want to get into drones?” Hard for me to argue with that!

Going through the process of acquiring all the certifications, our team realised that our government had a soft spot for not only this emerging industry but for younger individuals wanting to get into it. They were incredibly helpful and encouraging in the process, giving subsidies and following up with extra materials and resources. “They were excited to see a girl, a young girl, wanting to get into a high-tech industry in the farming/agriculture sector”, said Damian.

There was no looking back once the journey had begun. Summer shared with me that she never really had much passion for anything at school, other than technology and plants—two boxes that get an automatic tick from this line of work.

“Once I learned about how drones could potentially help farmers stop using as much chemicals and massively reduce their carbon footprint; being in an industry where I KNOW I can make a change, that kinda made me say, yeah, I want to do this.” Followed by a comical afterthought, “and also I get paid, so…” we all laughed!

Although ethics has always been the backbone of any of Damian’s businesses, it seemed to me that Summer represented another level in sustainability. She spoke of wanting to focus on the mapping/surveying side of things. She mentioned a desire to work on mining rehabilitation, specifically in fertilising and seeding mining devastated areas.

Summer leaves towards the end of our meeting and I get to hone in on the Father/Daughter working relationship from Damian’s perspective.

“I adore Summer. Yeah, she’s an amazing kid. She’s a teenager; so she won’t clean her room! But when she walks out that door in uniform, she’s an unbelievable worker.” Damian continues and explains that she never asks when they are knocking off, and that she understands that they work until the job is done. What makes her such good worker? “Paying attention, wanting to learn, willing to learn, having a work ethic.”

Damian changed tact for a moment, reflecting on the younger generation and the speed of the advancements in exciting new technologies, such as drones. “No wonder they (young adults) want everything now, it’s the world they grew up in.” This statement showed a deep and respectful understanding of the younger generation and the tendency towards instant gratification in our technology-led era.

He shared a proud Dad moment when he realized, watching Summer chat to a farmer on site, that she could handle the conversation and explain all technical questions; and not just handle it, but shine and enjoy doing so too.

Young and full of potential Summer has recently been offered another job that is clearly a great option for her.

When I asked Damian what he thought about that, he compassionately replied, “I’ll support her in anything she wants to do and I’m all for her having different experiences. Do I want her to leave? No, I love working with Summer and would miss her deeply.”

’Twould appear I’ve accidentally uncovered another, unofficial, ‘Family in business’ story from the Fraser Coast!

I’ve been really enjoying writing these articles and I think a massive part of that has been having the opportunity to meet some fantastic locals I may not usually have crossed paths with otherwise.
I want to leave you with the final quote of the heart-warming section of the interview, “She’s a beautiful human being. I’m the luckiest father, honestly, in the whole world. That’s the truth.”