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It seems like just about every industry is talking about drones these days. And with the massive market potential that they represent, it’s not hard to see why. But does it make sense for your business? And if it does, should you invest in deploying an internal drone operations program, or does it make more sense for your company to subcontract with an experienced drone service provider? Here are a 6 key questions to consider as you evaluate options:

How often do you need drones?

Does your company need drones on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis? If you plan on conducting flights every day as opposed to once a year, that will dramtically impact the overall cost-benefit analysis. Many companies find that they have a seasonal need for drone operations, or that they have surge demands during particular events like natural disasters. How many employees can your company reasonably expect to employ for this type of operation?

Are you ready to invest in the people?

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Any manager knows that finding top talent is extremely difficult, and while the drone industry is rapidly expanding, being able to sift through and separate top performing drone operators from novices can be tricky. Keep in mind that a single crash of an expensive drone can wipe out the cost savings of working with an inexperienced pilot vs a seasoned expert. Also keep in mind that, as with any profession, ongoing professional training is paramount to a safe and successful flight team.

At Aerial Applications we have cultivated a network of over 400 pilots nationwide that represent the most experienced and professional operators in the commercial market. We also provide ongoing professional training to our staff and coaching on various systems and flight operations to keep our team sharp and maintain our 100% safety record.

Are you ready to invest in the hardware?

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Sure, this is really cool technology, but is your company going to see a return on the investment that you make in drone hardware? In the majority of cases, the drone hardware components are going to follow Moore’s Law, making them rapidly depreciating assets. Since the industry is so new, it is difficult to know for certain when the hardware will need to be replaced, but following the trends to date, its not unreasonable to think that you could be swapping out your fleet every 6–12 months. Assuming you get the right drone for the job the first time, you could still be looking

Just as many enterprise companies are moving away fom investing in their own servers and data centers in favor of cloud based services, we predict that many companies that are currently buying drones are going to want to move to a business model that lets them off-load the hardware. Being able to make the data actionable once you collect it requires significant computing power. This means that drone flight operations need to invest in specialized servers in order to deliver the information in the time and quality that is expected. Quite often this processing is the most expensive aspect of the entire operation.

It is also important to keep in mind that a large portion of flights, particularly flights conducted by untrained or newly trained drone operators, result in damage to the drone itself. This could be minor, or it could take out the whole system. A first time flight team should budget 1.75–2.5x the cost of equipment for crashes and spare parts, not including routine maintenance.

Are you ready for the risk profile?

Anyone managing drone flight operations should be ready for the risk profile that they represent. This means thinking about safety procedures and training that prevent injury to people and property during flight. It also means having the right insurance policy in place for safe operations of the aircraft as well as coverage to protect the drone itself during flight. Finding a good price on the right level of insurance can be challenging.

Aerial Applications has a $5 million aviation policy that covers all flight operations, as well as a $10 million general liability policy in place. But more importantly, we have a 100% safety record to avoid exerciseing these policies in the first place.

Are you ready for the complexity?
Staying competitive in the drone industry means keeping up to date on all of the information available across hardware, software and sensors. It also means keeping up with the latest FAA regulations and airspace requirements to operate legally and safely.

Is unmanned aviation part of your core business?

When evaluating all of the above considerations, it might also be worth simply asking if drone operations are part of your company’s core business. If not, it might simply make sense to work with a professional partner to handle this part of your business, for the same reason it makes sense to work with a cloud-based data provider. As with any new program, there will be unforeseen complexities and factors to consider.

Conclusion

Deploying drone based flight operations can significantly improve operations for a wide range of companies and ultimately result in significant value. The key is making the right cost benefit analysis and including all of the various direct and indirect costs of operations before moving forward.