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Drones are becoming a way of life in all commercial industries, especially in the construction field where the upside to using unmanned technology keeps growing. A job that traditionally would take two field engineers several days onsite can now be done using a drone in a matter of hours. An inspection job that would require several days setting up extensive scaffolding or a bringing in a huge crane can now all be completed using UAS technology. UAS is an acronym used by the FAA for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. If a construction company hasn’t already had the discussion to start using drones yet, their competitors definitely have. It’s more a matter of “when” and not “if “companies will take the plunge. Like it or not, drones are here to stay.

Technology To The forefront

Unmanned technology can be used in a number of ways in the commercial world. Drones can investigate and inspect a problem onsite and reach high-risk areas quickly and safely. Camera technology on most drones is lightyears ahead of where it was just a few years ago. Zoom cameras can read a driver’s license from 300 feet away. Thermal cameras can identify water leaks that the naked eye can’t see and do it safer than traditional methods. 

An important element to many commercial projects is the ability to show progress throughout each phase of development. Drones can be easily programmed to fly to the same exact location over and over again to show project progress as needed with superior image resolution. 

Unmanned aircraft can give architects a view of what an adjacent structure would look in the planning phase, and show how the aesthetics will change a community's landscape in regards to open space on the ground and upwards. Likewise, commercial developers can sell condominium space before ground is even broken because a drone can show a potential buyer the exact view they would get within incredible accuracy. 

Surveying applications have been made easier because data collection is now quicker, more accurate and less expensive using drone technology. Survey accuracy tolerances of one tenth of a foot can easily be achieved. The pictures taken by a drone can build a 3D point cloud that can give a client millions of data points. An orthomosaic photo can be used to measure two points accurately in a 3D environment. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what drones can do, and the technology is making new uses for drones everyday. All of this sounds great, right? Is it too good to be true? The answer is a resounding “NO”! 

Where To Start

There are two ways for construction companies to start using drones. The easiest option is to hire a subcontractor to do the work. The upside to hiring a subcontractor is that a company can start using drone services relatively quickly. The downside to hiring a subcontractor is that a bit of homework is needed to find a reputable solution. Right now the drone industry is truly the Wild Wild West. There are thousands of operators approaching clients that don’t have experience, proper certification, adequate equipment or the insurance needed to protect their clients. All drone operators are required to follow the FAA operational requirements of Part 107 and get a remote pilot's license. The next most important element is insurance. There is no insurance that will cover a drone accident other than the specific UAS drone insurance policy that a remote pilot has to purchase. Many operators can’t afford drone insurance so they operate without it in the hopes that a client doesn’t know better to ask for it. Once someone finds an operator that has the insurance, make sure the remote pilot adds the company as additional insured to the policy to help protect the client. Lastly, the subcontractor should have adequate equipment that will work in a commercial environment. Most inexpensive drones under $1500 can’t fly in moderate windy conditions. Make sure the drone operator has the right equipment for commercial applications.

If a company wants to start using drones internally it is a much more involved process that can take several months before they are out flying missions. Some companies think they can run out to the local electronics store, purchase an inexpensive drone and start using it the next day. It really doesn’t work that way. A successful drone program starts with good equipment and good internal processes. Commercial drones can range anywhere from $5000 to $15,000, and by the time all accessories are added in it can cost upwards of $30,000. 

Training and certifications are the next factors to consider. All commercial operators are required to have the FAA Part 107 license, which requires the remote pilot to pass a 60-question aeronautical test administered by the FAA. Even if a company isn’t charging for drone services it is still considered a commercial application that requires the license. There are dozens of online test prep courses that can help prepare an individual to take the test. The cost for these courses ranges from $99 to $250 per person. 

Lastly there’s the training element. Drones are what’s considered easy to fly, hard to control. Unmanned aircraft have built in flight automation that makes them easy to fly where the pilot can have hands off the controls flying. However, if the automation fails or stops working in flight, the pilot needs to know how to fly manually which requires training and practice time. It takes an average pilot between 50 and 150 flights of practice before they are ready to start doing commercial work. Professional flight training can cost several thousand dollars depending upon how many operators need training and the level of training. Some drone training schools offer complete integration program solutions that can make the entire process a painless experience.

Fasten Your Seat Belt

While the drone industry is still in its infancy stage, the FAA predicts that sales of UAS for commercial purposes could grow to 2.7 million units by 2020. Drone technology is evolving at the speed of light with new technology being launched almost daily. It’s hard to envision where the drone industry will be in five years, but one thing is for certain: They are changing the landscape of commercial industry. It will be a fascinating ride.


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