Assel Ayapova dreamed about robots as a girl. Soon the AES Corporation’s Global Manager will be sharing her insight at Commercial UAV Expo.


I was born in a small town in Kazakhstan, Central Asia. When attending school, my mom would ask me to help her with house cleaning and other home-related chores but I always preferred studying and dreamed about robots for house work. My passion and dreams about robots, coupled with my education, led me to the career in the Drone Program at AES Corporation (NYSE: AES). With the application of drones, I am able to help AES with improving the safety and quality programs while increasing efficiencies.    

Moreover, I am a Certified Program Manager (CPM) and practicing Project Management (PM) Trainer with over 15 years of experience in management of Industrial, Organizational and Financial Projects. I am also experienced in the development of PMO and PM standards.

Innovative technologies are lifechanging and are affecting not only corporations but also my personal life. I believe, we all should follow our dreams to be successful in life and always do more than what is expected of us!

How did you get started in the drone industry?

My career in AES Corporation started in 2011 as a Construction Project Director. Since, 2011 twice I won the company’s AES Global APEX Award (2012 and 2014).  After successful completion of two highly visible Power Plant Construction projects in AES Kazakhstan I was invited to join the AES Headquarters team in the US.

Since 2017 I am leading the AES Innovative Global Drone Program that includes 16 countries.

Tell us about your organization and your role there.

The AES Corporation is a global power company that owns and operates a diverse and growing portfolio of electricity generation and distribution businesses, improving the lives of millions of people by safely delivering reliable and sustainable energy solutions in 15 countries in more than 100 power plants.

The first value at AES is Safety. Using applied innovations, at the same time, we can make our workplaces safer, reduce cycle time and find new, improved and more efficient solutions.

One of the most promising technologies in our line of business is drones. We saw the potential to improve safety and avoid more than 30,000 hours of high-risk activities per year. The last 3-4 years were dedicated to the testing of different technologies and building internal programs. Currently, we have at AES 150 internal drone pilots.

As the Global Program Manager at AES, I am responsible for meeting the Drone Program objectives which consists of governance and planning activities in conjunction with integration and expansion of the use of drones across the AES platform.  My role also involves research, utilization, application and sharing of the best industry practices within our organization globally.

Industry Experience:

What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?

The present time represents a technological era and the UAV industry is experiencing rapid growth each day. It is important to me to participate in the big industrial changes as new developments are very important to me. Nothing is constant and continuous self-development and opportunity to grow within the industry is the biggest value and motivation for me to stay in the UAV industry.

What’s your favorite type of project and why?

During my 15 years of experience as a Project Manager in different industries, certainly the Drone Program is one of my favorites. Our drone program is improving safety, efficiencies of our assets, and will gradually benefit all our businesses improving the grid’s stability while saving lives and making our households brighter and warmer.

Do you have a success story you would like to share?

The AES Corporation was recently recognized by AUVSI XCELLENCE for our Global Drone Program, receiving 2nd place in the category of “Operations & Safety Organization”.

Taking into consideration that 1st place was won by the NASA Langley Research Center (Aviation and Space Research Center), winning the 2nd place by an energy company such as AES is a great achievement.

Moreover, In 2017, AES prevented our employees from performing 24,000 high risk activities which instead were performed by drones and included:  manual inspections that previously required climbing, utilization of bucket trucks, or traversing rugged terrain. The program has shown $4.6M in financial benefits that included cost savings in labor and incremental asset performance.

From my previous success stories, I can highlight that I’m the author of the best paper at the Fifth World Association for Sustainable Development International Conference (Brisbane, Australia), and the best project at UNECE Women Entrepreneurs and Information – Communication Technologies International Business Forum (Haifa, Israel).

What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?

This is a best time for women to enter this emerging industry and to participate in these new developments. I would like to encourage all women to become active and start contributing towards improvements in people lives and a better future for our children.

What You’ve Learned:

What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment since you entered the industry? 

For me the most significant “lightbulb” moment was when I first took the Industrial drone in my hands and tried to fly under the instructions of professional pilots. Flying drones is not my role in the program but still it’s so cool to feel like a Pilot.

What have you learned that you wish you had known when you got started?

Since I started with Drone Program, I have realized that many countries have their own regulations associated with the use of drones. Therefore, it was very important for me to understand the legal and operational requirements of the countries participating in the program.

Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?

Since the industry is changing rapidly, my lessons learned are to keep researching and to daily monitor all developments in Industry and Regulations.


Assel Ayapova
Global Program Manager
AES Corporation