Drones are becoming increasingly numerous in many aspects of daily life. By now most people are familiar with the fact that they take photographs, film aerial videos, and map the landscape.
Recent drone market data has confirmed that UAS technology has progressed from the exploratory experimental phase and has now reached the solid implementation phase.
In this Drone Age UAV will become an essential part of operations in everything from professional photography to the oil and gas industry. It is predicted that by 2020 there will be 7 million drones in the air.
Between this year and the next the figure will reach approximately 600,000 commercial drones alone flying below 500 feet in our skies. Perhaps, as you watch TV news, documentaries, and films you have already become accustomed to spotting the drone footage.
Drones are a huge advantage to many including map makers seeking greater accuracy and a method of collecting data in a cost effective way. For example, they are reportedly being used by Apple to improve its Maps app.
Drones can also be used for internal end external structural inspections of buildings and industrial plants. This makes them immensely useful for collecting data using a variety of camera lenses in areas that are dirty or dangerous – where humans would prefer not to visit due to the risks or the discomfort involved.
As a result of the burgeoning drone industry there is an ever growing demand for drone pilots. There has never been a better time to get involved in flying drones. Perhaps you plan to incorporate drone technology into your current business, or you intend to become a freelance drone pilot, or perhaps your goal is to start a drone business.
Whatever your ambitions you will need good quality training provided by companies authorised to provide it by the aviation authority.
Flying any aircraft requires that the pilot in command obeys certain rules and regulations. The same principles apply to pilots in command of unmanned aircraft. The fact that you’re on the ground and not in a cockpit doesn’t alter the fact that you have a responsibility for an aircraft.
Your UAV may be small and light, but it’s an aircraft nonetheless. It means that you have to adhere specific restrictions relating to RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems) operating at low level and often in areas of intense human activity e.g. urban and industrial areas.
One of the responsibilities of UK’s CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) is formulating and administering of all aspects of Air Law. There are rules which apply to all unmanned aircraft, whether they are being flown for fun or for commercial reasons.
These rules will vary depending on the size of your drone and where you are planning to fly it. If you plan to fly your drone over your own property then fewer restrictions will apply, although there will still be some with which you need to be familiar.
The main purpose of all this regulation is safety. They are designed to minimise the risk of any injury to people (on the ground or in the air) or damage to property. There are also regulations that protecting peoples’ rights to privacy and for prohibiting the use of drones for illegal activities.
The main source of all the information about the UK’s rules and regulations is the CAA’s website. Start at unmanned aviation section and become familiar with all the contents.
If you want to fly a drone for any kind of commercial work in the UK you need to be over 18 years old. You will need to pass a written exam that tests your knowledge of best flying practices, airmanship, air law, and airspace restrictions. You will also need to pass a flight assessment in which your flying skills will be tested.
Thirdly, you will need to compile an Operations Manual which outlines the basic flying procedures for the types of flights you intend to undertake with your drone.
Once you’ve passed the exam and the flight assessment, and completed your Operations Manual, you can apply to the CAA for a PfCO which stands for Permission for Commercial Operation from the CAA (Formerly called PfAW – Permission for Aerial Work. They changed it in August 2016).
PfCO’s are valid for 12 months from the date of issue. Applications for renewal are best sent at least 30 days before the expiry date to ensure continuity.
If you change the type of UAV flown or any aspect of the type of flights flown then you’ll need to amend your Operations Manual and inform the CAA of those changes.
In the UK training is provided by NQEs, National Qualified Entities. These are training organisations approved to provide training, adjudicate exams, and conduct flight assessments.
There are NQEs all over the UK now. Just google for ‘drone training‘ in your chosen area e.g. ‘drone training Exeter‘. You shouldn’t have to travel too far for courses and assessments.
Failure to comply with CAA regulations can result in hefty fines and even a prison sentence. It is therefore crucial to make sure that you do not fall foul of the law at any time, and the safeguard against that is high quality training that fosters a good sense of airmanship.
Safe and legal training is provided by CAA accredited training organisations called NQEs, National Qualified Entities. Choosing one of these organisations to train you is a very smart choice because it means that you will know the relevant regulations perfectly.
As well as providing the theoretical knowledge that you need an NQE will also provide practical training. They will lead you form ab initio student to a professional level of competency. They will also advise you on how to apply for your PfCO.
Currently, there are four main paths that people take to become commercial drone operators.
The first path is as a hobbyist who finds that they can make money from their drone flying skills. If you can already fly a quadcopter well you may already have been wondering if you can earn money by doing so. Your experience of the flying characteristics of various airframes and the software that controls them will stand you in good stead for the move into the professional world.
The second path stems from the military. If you originally trained as a military UAV pilot and you’re now ready to now move into the civilian world then there are commercial drone flying openings awaiting you. The military experience with the emphasis on teamwork and adherence to flight procedures are the ideal foundation for a new career flying commercial UAV.
Thirdly, we have professional photographers who are looking to branch out into aerial photography. If you already work as a photographer it makes sense to capitalise on the growing demand for aerial photography. Aerial photography skills will enable you to get that perfect shots from previously inaccessible angles and heights.
The fourth and final path to drone flying starts with anyone who thinks of themselves as an entrepreneur. If you want to make money from the hottest trends and are seeking a career in a developing market, and if you are ready to turn your hand to anything as long as it is lucrative, drone flying is for you.
In addition to the basic drone pilot training classes provided by CAA accredited NQEs there are various specialisations that you can adopt. Depending on your current or desired career you might want to specialise in videography, cinematography and film editing alongside basic drone flying skills. Technological additions to your drone will enable you to equip it for a specific purpose such as film making or high definition photography.
Another popular customisation to consider for your drone is a LiDAR sensor. LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors send a pulsing laser beam to scan the earth’s surface and measure the time it takes for the light to hit the target and return to its source. The data is compiled to create very accurate 3D models of terrain. These sensors are highly useful in any profession that requires topographical data such as agriculture, forestry, and archaeology.
You may be surprised by the vast array of courses that are available to enhance your current drone flying skills and ensure that you can put your drone to good use in a specific field. From courses on building quadcopters from scratch to others on using drones for aerial photography, videography, cinematography, and live streaming you will have no trouble finding a teacher and a module that suits your needs.
As new applications for drones are discovered and new niches open up in the market, new drone training courses are beginning up and down the country.
To summarise, start your drone training with accredited trainers who will help you develop the habits that will last throughout your career. Develop a strong sense of airmanship and situational awareness that keeps you in control of any aircraft in flight.
In Continental Europe drones are regulated by the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency). Laws differ from country to country within Europe so no matter what country you wish to fly your drone in it is crucial that you check the the rules and regulations that apply to unmanned aircraft in that country’s airspace.
As the UAS industry continues to evolve it must come as no surprise that drone pilots jobs are increasing proportionally with this expansion. Just like the rapid growth of the mobile phone network a few decades ago there are now many opportunities for solo operators, small businesses, and large companies.
Note: If you would prefer to hear this post instead of reading it then here’s the video version. You’ll find other videos of this type in my YouTube channel.
Drone pilots have several benefits to enjoy and to look forward to as they begin and continue their careers.
With the growth of the UAS industry there is a high probability of continuous and secure employment. Estimates from industry associations suggest that there will be hundreds of thousand of new drone pilots jobs in the USA and the UK in the next few decades.
Along with the jobs for drone pilots themselves there are all the other roles that the industry creates; trainers, hardware designers, software developers, engineers, and regulatory, ancillary & administration staff.
The same expansion could create demand that exceeds supply and thereby increase salaries for drone pilots with competition for the number of experienced UAV operators, especially those with rare skills.
Some drone pilots have opted for starting their own companies and finding work through their own marketing skills. Others prefer to leave running a business to an employer and have found positions in companies that provide the advantages of steady employment.
Salaries are of course commensurate with skills and experience. An ex-military UAV pilot who use to fly Reapers and is now operating a civilian equivalent for meteorological research purposes will earn more than a DJI Phantom pilot doing urban roof inspections!
Job Variety & Interest
There are already many uses for UAV and as new hardware and software is developed this is likely to continue to increase. Drone pilots can expect to be given tasks that test their abilities in variety of environments and climates.
A drone pilot can expect to work in rural, urban, and industrial areas. There is no limit to where filming might be required from one week to the next. It’s part of the attraction and adds a certain level of excitement not knowing where you’ll be from one week to the next.
Following on from the point about variety there are also the prospect of foreign travel. Although the UAS industry in expanding rapidly the growth is not consistent among countries in the developed world.
Already drone pilots in the UK and USA are finding that their skills are required not just at home but abroad too. Some countries still have strict regulations that have slowed or even prohibited the growth of the UAS industry. However, the demand for aerial photography remains so companies that need that service have looked abroad and contracted out for the task.
Drone pilots who specialise in a particular discipline can develop skills that are rare and therefore in high demand.
Like all technologies there few people who are experts in every field and most will choose to have one main area of expertise while still being competent in several others.
There’s an old joke in aviation:
Q: How can you tell if there’s a pilot in the room?
A: He’ll tell you.
Let’s face it, when someone asks you what you do for a living telling them you fly drones is likely to be the start of an interesting conversation, even if the listener is wary of them and the risks, real or imagined.
People are interested in new technology and drones are at the leading edge now. The only disadvantage to this curiosity is that some people see fit to walk up to you with a list of questions while you’re concentrating on flying safely and according to the flight plan!
For those who have begun a career in this new Drone Age then the prospects are very good indeed. As described above there is likely to be job security, opportunities for variety, and rising salaries.
However, drone pilots will need to maintain their skills and learn new ones. As the technology develops so will they also need to keep abreast of these developments and incorporate them into their skillsets.
If at any time flying the drones themselves with all that it involves; travel (domestic or foreign), being out in all weathers, and locations etc, then the UAV operator can move into a variety of roles that will make use of his or her experience in the field.
All those entries in the pilot’s logbook can become fertile ground for developers and designers who know first hand where there is room for improvement in both aircraft design and software utilities.
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Drone sales have soared in the past few years and their popularity with businesses is increasing all the time. UAV operators offering drone video services are widely available and in constant demand.
Companies are using this new technology to upgrade their marketing efforts, improve customer service and produce stunning imagery on a modest budget. No one knows how quickly companies could begin to see an ROI from these unmanned aircraft, but as with any new technology it pays to be ahead of the curve.
As the quality of drone footage improves from one year to the next many marketing professionals are enlisting UAV operators offering drone video services and ask them to create breathtaking visual content. Armed with this media they can offer consumers stunning shots taken from fresh perspectives, even if they’re working with a modest budget.
Affordability is and will continue to be a unique selling point; even small to medium sized businesses will be able to produce professional grade audiovisuals with a minimum of experience. This immediacy will also prevent the kind of delays which are associated with adopting a new technology; many of the applications employed by drones are designed to be user friendly and accessible to all.
However, if a company would prefer not to operate a drone in-house, there is an ever increasing database of stock photos and videos available online.
Drone footage lends itself well to innovation and creatively, the kind of marketing teams that enjoy experimenting with their output will appreciate the super-fast time to market speeds drone video services can provide. However, aerial video production is also making inroads into many traditional professions.
For architecture teams, drone video services represent a more economical solution than manned aircraft when aerial photographs or video are needed. Drones can relay data that enables drafts people and builders to map an area to the finest detail, producing highly accurate representations of the space below.
Drones can also be useful when it comes to selling new homes, as people are far more inspired by smooth HD video showing a 360 degree view, than they would be by flat floor plans and photos.
Similarly, estate agents can enlist drones to deliver an in-depth view of not only a house or apartment, but the surrounding properties, local shops and the neighbourhood. This gives potential buyers a greater sense of what the area is like and whether it could be right for them.
In turn this enables estate agents to market available properties more effectively, finding buyers who are more likely follow through with a sale, before they even arrange a viewing.
The travel and tourism industry is also set to be revolutionised by drone technology. Short aerial videos provide a company’s target market with excellent quality videography revealing a unique view of each resort and its location. The footage can promote not just individual hotels, but the attractions which surround the resort, the tours guests could take and the various destinations nearby.
Luxury hotels set in remote locations often look even more exquisite when filmed from an aerial perspective; the property can use drone footage to highlight its surroundings, manicured gardens and idyllic beach from every angle, using visual imagery which would never be as striking in a static, terrestrial shot. Guests gain the kind of overview that they can look forward to seeing when they arrive, getting a feel for the entire property and increasing their desire to visit.
YouTubers who bring something fresh and new to viewers can quickly begin to make money through advertising revenue, and merchandise. Drone footage that is well-shot and delivers interesting images can attract huge numbers of subscribers, from daredevil stunts, to visions of the natural world and buildings that cannot be reached on foot.
Once subscriber numbers are up, users can promote their products, advertise their website or sign up to be a YouTube advertising partner.
There’s no doubt that a drone video service can raise the standard of cinematography and visual communication for filmmakers working independently, even those on a strict budget. Many viewers have become accustomed to establishing shots filmed using a drone, but whilst miles of unspoilt wilderness or vibrant city streets do look great, the technology is capable of more.
Filmmakers can use drone shots for tracking a scene, establishing a reveal and a variety of artistic shots. Just think back to the opening scene of the James Bond outing, Skyfall, where Agent 007 was captured by drones as he tracked down a terrorist.
In any level of cinematic production, budgetary concerns always loom large. Using a drone can alleviate some of that stress by reducing the need for specialist knowledge and equipment like tracks, cranes and jibs. A drone is much smaller than this cumbersome set up and can capture shots in any space fast, saving both time and money.
Drone photography has become a major trend in the wedding industry, with many would-be couples choosing to capture their big day in an original way. Drones are associated with sweeping panoramic shots, but they can be there right from the start, recording the church ceremony, the guest’s reactions and the surroundings, all without ever disturbing the event.
If spotted at the reception, drones can make a fun distraction, as many people are unfamiliar with them and feel entertained by watching them dart around. Many couples choose to have a drone service at their wedding because it can give the event a star quality.
It’s a sophisticated, high-end alternative to having a wedding photographer; there is no need for flash photography and no unnatural breaks in the ceremony for a quick snap – so the day feels more natural.
Couples can also use drone photography to showcase elements of the venue which are especially beautiful or significant to them, in a dynamic way. From historic buildings, to churches and contemporary hotels, these flying cameras can produce images that will remain fascinating for years to come.
Being airborne a drone can easily take shots and video which would otherwise be impossible to achieve, children playing on the lawn whilst the bride and her mother hug nearby, the groom nervously pacing and the family beaming with pride. All of these intimate moments can be edited together to produce an emotional record of the day.
It’s not just the creative world which has found a use for aerial video production; in the UK many industrial companies are also considering the benefits of a drone video service. There are endless applications for drones in terms of providing data and collecting images for commercial concerns.
Utility companies need to maintain oil, gas and electricity lines, and civil engineers can use the information for mapping and surveying an area. There is also huge potential for drone use in the insurance industry, especially when a flood or other devastating natural event has affected people’s homes. Drones could be sent in to places that assessors cannot yet reach, to photograph the aftermath and enable claims to be processed faster.
Drone technology has only been available since 2012 and industry insiders believe that it will be the end users, rather than the manufacturers that decide what changes the future will bring. New innovations will emerge depending on the ways in which drones are incorporated into the commercial and private world.
Right now many drones are future proof; they can be adapted by software developers using apps to change how they work and produce a more bespoke result. The hope is that drones will become integrated into our lives in the same way as smart phones have, partly used as an entertainment device, but also capable of much more.
We know the technology works, so now one of the biggest challenges is acceptance; once people have seen the benefits they can better understand the possibilities.