The French drone industry is recovering.



Mr. Grégoire Thomas General Manager of AZUR DRONES (left) with Alejandro Ronard Alem (right).

by Alejandro Ronard Alem.-   Two months after the great bi-annual mass of the International Security and Defense armament of Paris, we refer to Eurosatory, we want to take a look at an industrial sector in which France has a slight delay, the drone industry.


The industrial civil or military drones are indispensable in sectors related to security and defense and will be present in version 2018 of Eurosatory.


To give a brief overview of the importance of Eurosatory, it is an International Exposition aimed at professionals in the sector  Defense-armament-security. The last edition in 2016 had 1571 exhibitors from all continents. There were 57,024 visitors and 713 specialized journalists were present. Eurosatory takes place a few steps from the CDG (Charles de Gaulle) airport in Paris on a surface of 167,217 m2, which gives a guideline of its importance.

We wanted to get more information into the sector of the industry of manufacturers of drones and security solutions that use this type of drone technology. In France, the drone sector has a slight and evident delay.  This week and according to the information provided by the Ministry of the Armed Forces,  the Reaper drones of Operation Barkhane achieved the symbolic bar of 20,000 flight hours. Installed in  Niamey since the beginning of the Serval operation in January 2013, the drone detachment is formed by 25 aviators and 5 Reaper drones.

Operational 24/7, the Reaper drones are systematically used in all phases of a military operation.

Built by General Atomics for the United States Air Force, the General Atomics MQ9 Reaper drone is used for surveillance and combat, in 2013 was integrated into the armament of French aviation by order of the then Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian, due to the absence of a drone solution of the French industry. No doubt in the future will be replaced for a drone 100% Franco-European because the DGA (Directorate General of Armament) and French industrialists work in this direction.


And our curiosity led us to interview the person in charge of one of the leading French corporations specialized in high tech drones, and in full expansion, AZUR DRONES. We interviewed Mr. Grégoire Thomas (Director General of Azur Drones)


AA: How would you define your company?


Grégoire Thomas (General Manager): AZUR DRONES is a technology company, and we develop solutions for the Security and Defense market.  We have 53 people in our company, with 25 engineers. The difference with other technology companies is that we developed a great sales team to propose specific solutions mainly dedicated to export.


AA: What is the age (median) in your company?


GT: It is about 30 years.


AA: When did they start?


GT: Well, I started in the civilian drone sector in 2009, in that year I founded a company called Flyng Eye that later I transferred to AZUR DRONES in January of 2017; precisely to have a greater financial and technological capacity, directed to the Security and Defense market. This represents a strategic priority for me.


AA: In two years AZUR DRONES have created several types of drones and recruited highly qualified personnel. In Abou Dhabi one of the last creations of AZUR DRONES, the Skeyetech, won an award in the Salon ISNR (International Exhibition for National Security and Resilience).


GT:  We had the luck, rather the possibility of having the support of a French private investor. A large industrial family from the north of France. They were enthusiastic about our industrial project and this allowed us to grow.

We were six people in 2016 and today we are 53, so we are talking about a real industrial project.  That allows us to propose innovative solutions for the Security and Defense market in very short time. That of “the needs are now”.

And our philosophy is to say that when we start a project of research and development of a product, we have to be able to make the product in six months.

We consider that if the research and development project takes more than six months we can be surpassed by a competitor and we can not respond to the needs of the client. That is really our philosophy.

AA: You work in the field, with clients that include in their logistical arsenal some of your drone solutions. Which ones are the best performers?

GT: Today we are developing a range of products that meet the needs of our customers. We have three solutions.

The first is a solution of captive drones, ie a drone powered by a cable that allows the drone to fly 24/7 to an altitude of 100 meters. We often call it a mobile range tower. And its mostly used by the Armed Forces for the control and security of bases and camps. For perimeter operations. Being also a solution that can be used in civil matters. For example, police forces; in particular the police, in order to monitor street demonstrations, events, etc.


The second solution is a solution that we will call “great elongation” It is a fixed flying drone, an airplane drone that flies 10 hours, each tour, in observation capacity,  which allows the detection up to 10 kilometers. This drone embarks a sphere, an optronic ball, which has the military norms of NATO, ESTANAG 4609, with which we comply with the regulations of the French and foreign armies on border surveillance, surveillance of communication routes and linear surveillance of caravans and other roads.


The third solution that we propose, we develop it with the acquisition of a company called Skeyetech, for which the drone is called Skeyetech. And it is an autonomous drone solution for monitoring sensitive places. Imagine a Nuclear Power Plant with a perimeter of 10 kilometers, a perimeter captor detects a potential intrusion and the drone automatically starts without a pilot making and registering visual elements which are analyzed in the security PC. This action takes us out of doubt and the drone returns to its base, is recharged and is available for a new alert. This product is aimed at the security of private (ie civil) sites and also the Defense since the Defense has sensitive locations that must be monitored 24/7.

The advantage of this solution is obviously to raise the level of security and also to make savings to our customers in terms of operating costs. It is really a King product as we say because in less than one year the solution is profitable.


AA: Your vision of the future, how do you define it?


GT: Our ambition is to be a global player in the Security and Defense market.  Today we are 53 and if everything goes well, in 2019 we will be 200 people in AZUR DRONES. We already have a global presence with a commercial team covering today Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Tomorrow probably the USA and South America. We have the ambition to create an industrial model away from the Startup model. Capitalize not only based on our intellectual property but also based on the markets we are able to penetrate and our turnover that we are able to realize with our technologies.


AA: A global conception of creation and management of project-construction-sale with maintenance and training of the personnel of your clients?


GT: Absolutely, the heart of our strategy is to provide a global solution. We do not provide only materials. The solution evidently involves the aerial vector, the captor is integrated; the man-machine interface allows the client to exploit the collected data. And all this is possible because we dominate the entire value chain.

We control the value chain in terms of research and development, be it at the level of hardware or software.

We master the needs of our customers because we are also operators. In most of the business opportunities, our clients ask us for a deployment that we test in-house as we have operators that come from the intelligence services of the Army.

We develop our solution with all the possible problems on the ground, then quickly propose a calibrated offer, “TaylorMade”. And of course, we transmit our knowledge at the level of the operation, of the development and its maintenance.

What sets us apart from our competitors is precisely the ability to form, not only on deployment but also on level 1 and level 2 maintenance.  So they can maintain their system over time and be a profitable and perennial acquisition.

To finish we will say that AZUR DRONES has launched professional training for all those who for particular reasons wish to change the course of their lives, beginning with a formation recognized by the  National Audiovisual Institute. And this with its Flying Eye brand, in its training centers of Nice, Pau, Perpignan, and Saint -Rémy-lès-Chevreuse in the Parisian Region.

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