I’ve been flying drones as a hobby since Christmas 2013 and was granted my Permit for Aerial Work in February 2016 after sitting my ground school and taking multiple flight tests in each weight category so that I can fly any multirotor drone under 20Kg during daylight hours, at night and using observers out to a distance of 1.5km from the pilot.
Like a lot of commercial drone operators I’ve been doing this alongside a day job, which in my case has taken priority, and after family, has been first call on my time.
In December, I took the decision to ‘retire’ from my day job and concentrate on building Drones on Demand, so since 2nd January this has been my sole focus. I’ve already spent time talking to potential clients about how using drones could help them save money, get results faster and more safely than the methods they currently use.
I’ve also spent time evaluating our drone fleet now that the industry is a little more established, both from a manufacturer and service provider perspective.
As is usually the case, technology has got smaller, faster and more reliable; there have been some great leaps forward in both camera and battery technology meaning that you no longer need an octo or hexacopter to lift a camera capable of capturing stabilised 4k footage and the battery needed to power the rig. This, in turn, means that you can fly in tighter spaces – particularly relevant if flying in a Congested Area where, with a big rig weighing over 7kg, you must maintain a minimum distance of 150m away from people and buildings not under the control of the pilot. Conversely, for a craft under 7kg this reduces to 50 meters if you have a Permit for Commercial Operation.
Another great leap forward in the last 12 months or so is the variety and quality of the software that is now available for use in conjunction with the drones. You can now quite cheaply integrate the app used to fly the drone and operate the camera with flight planning and logging software, meaning that admin time is significantly reduced and data is more accurate. The drones can now stream live footage to Facebook and Youtube and can be directly integrated with cloud based image processing suites like www.dronedeploy.com. None of this is possible without some significant upgrades to the big platforms, and even then, the level of integration is reduced.
The final two factors are cost, and most importantly, safety. As is typical with most technology, costs have tumbled. To get the same, or better, capability as I bought when first starting out in 2014 you need to spend around £5k today, compared with the c£30k I spent back then. The final point is on safety –the latest generation of aircraft are now using widely proven technology which, barring pilot error, is far more resilient and less likely to fail and fall out of the sky. There are multiple failsafes which automatically kick in if the pilot is distracted or incapacitated and finally, they weigh a lot, lot less – any incident involving a craft weighing 3.5Kg is going to be less serious than a UAV weighing 11Kg.
What did I decide? After thoroughly reviewing the options, talking to other commercial operators and reviewing target client base and applications I have decided to purchase two state of the art, smaller, safer, more integrated aircraft; the larger aircraft will be retired over the next few weeks. The new aircraft are more than capable of exceeding our clients’ requirements and can carry the spectrum of sensors that clients are asking for today and hopefully for the foreseeable future.
Who knows where the technology will be in the next few years?