What Does It Take to Fly Drones For Business?

Oct 12, 2016 12:26:36 PM  |  0 Comments

“The moral of this story is, do some research before investing in professional equipment or leaving scorched Earth at the ‘ol day job.”

As one of the nation’s largest commercial drone operators, Measure has done its research. We have invested heavily in top-of-the-line equipment and performed thousands of commercial flights to make us experts in the drone services field. Recently, Patrick Egan wrote in sUAS News how drone pilots can cement themselves in the industry, and what they stand to gain. Egan’s insights are incredibly accurate and applicable to a broad audience of drone pilots. Below, we summarize his advice, supplemented with our own experiences as an enterprise with a thoroughly accomplished team of pilots.

Egan believes that performing agricultural drone flights is not for everyone. For the many people who do not live within reasonable distance of a farm, lack of proximity is the largest deterrent to starting up drone services in the agriculture sector. As our VP of Agriculture Robert Blair likes to say, agriculture itself is typically resistant to flashy technology with no lasting power. Drones still are proving their worth, driven by the advancement of aerial data analytics and the continued accumulation of drone data season-to-season—farmers must see the statistical correlation between use of drone data to make farm management decisions and a reduction in costs and/or boost in yield. Additionally, farmers generally require a less-than-48-hour turnaround for their data, which is no small task when operating at scale. These issues must be addressed before an operator can successfully service the agriculture vertical.

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As for the real estate industry, Measure agrees with Egan that there is money to be made for licensed remote pilots, but that “the competition has shown up.” As Part 107 has drawn an influx of pilots to this industry, prices continue to be driven down by the sheer magnitude of pilots flooding this market. While it is still a reasonably straightforward application for UAVs, customers still expect operators to possess liability insurance and thorough drone filming expertise. Pilots who hope to survive in this saturated vertical must be able to offer a professional skill set at a competitive price.

Egan also talks about the big “money ringer” for the party: cell phone tower inspections. Egan discusses the fact that many service operators fail to apply a repeatable methodology in these operations—Measure, on the other hand, has developed a rigorous protocol for inspecting telecommunications assets. In Measure’s experience, owners of cell phone towers do not simply want photographs of their equipment. They want 3D models and comprehensive inspection reports, which require the standardization of a specific, repeatable flight pattern and significant data processing and analytics resources. Drone service operators must have the time and capital to develop the operational proficiency needed before they can execute a useful cell phone tower inspection.

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There is a learning curve within the drone services industry. To successfully embark on a career as a drone pilot, one must educate oneself on the idiosyncrasies of the market and its diverse end-users. Aspiring pilots also must be flexible and adjust to the constant changes in this growing market. Those who don’t do their research or cannot adapt to the ebbs and flows of the industry risk failing—and become cautionary tales.

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