Did it start as a hobby?
Perhaps your parents bought a cheap and cheerful helicopter that you flew around in circles and crashed into the dog?. Now, however, you have a high-end drone which cost far more than you’d care to admit. You own all the must-have gadgets including a state-of-the-art ground station setup, a gyroscopic camera with 360° functionality and perhaps you’re thinking of including some sort of thermal imaging?
As an up-and-coming UAV pilot, you probably want to monetize your drone and equipment investment, which is a great idea. What do you need to know in order to successfully navigate the business space as a commercial UAV operator?
First things first.
Murphy’s law says that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. And while we don’t want to be harbingers of doom, there are some risks that you shouldn’t take – especially with a drone which costs more than your car. So, a good insurance policy that covers your drone, your ground station equipment and your payload is definitely the place to start. You can’t operate a drone business without a drone.
Any professional organization which hires the services of a drone operator will ask for proof of liability insurance. This insurance can cover a whole host of potential accidents such as loss of UAV, third party legal liability, fire legal liability, personal injury, damage to premises, contractual liability and more. It’s a good idea to chat to your insurance broker to define exactly what they cover, and how much cover is included. A rogue drone or a simple miscalculation can cost you dearly and could possibly sink your business before you even get off the ground – so to speak. Many insurance companies will only insure commercial drone operators who satisfy certain criteria. Visit the SACAA (South African Civil Aviation Authority) website for more information on the requirements for commercial drone operation in South Africa.
As drones become ever smarter and more useful, so do the industries which make use of them. The obvious and well-known markets such as advertising, film and entertainment, and real estate are already making good use of drones. Beautiful aerial photography, incredibly clever and watchable adverts, and impossible stunts are all readily available, thanks to the humble UAV. These markets are a good place to start if you are punting for business, as they already have a need for your services.
Security companies are starting to enjoy the speed and versatility of UAVs, so it may be beneficial to put together a targeted pitch for this industry. Consider what equipment you may have that would be beneficial to them, such as thermal imaging.Commercial farmers find that the security offered by responsive drones, as well as their ability to cover large tracts of land while logging key information on water, livestock, and crops is invaluable. Perhaps they don’t want to invest in a UAV with all the add-ons themselves, so your periodic services would be welcome.
If you want to go big, and perhaps travel a little, then chat to petrochemical or gas companies who have started using low-flying drones to monitor lengths of pipeline in inhospitable places. Engineers and architects are finding it a simple task to monitor a development by using drones to log its process. Additional software that can track the daily progress of a dam, a building, or even a mine will make you even more employable.
Could you offer pilot training to customers who may want their own fleet down the line?
Once you have your equipment, your insurance, and a few key customers in your target market, then you are well on your way to a successful UAV business. Positioning yourself in a burgeoning industry by offering great rates, excellent service and of course, exceptional piloting skills, places you in a strong position. Yes, there is some hoop jumping to get registered and to get all your paperwork in order, but with that comes the peace of mind that you are legal and you have all your bases covered. Harnessing your hobby is a great career choice, if correctly managed. As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
This article should not be considered legal or financial advice and is for information purposes only. You should consult with a professional financial adviser to determine what may be best for your individual needs.