Drones | In-house vs. Outsource

May 22, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

This article is my latest monthly submission for an international pulp and paper publication:

 

Since the Federal Aviation Administration established official UAS regulations in August of 2016, companies are now able to make legal decisions to incorporate UAS into their business.  While some larger companies have taken drone operations in house, many have decided to outsource the service to professional Drone Service Providers.

As a professional UAS operator of 13 years, you would expect me to make the obvious recommendation to outsource.  While true, my suggestion to outsource would remain unchanged even if I was an outsider to the drone business. 

My reasoning…

First and foremost, the drone pilot will need to study for and pass the FAA Part 107 exam in order to legally perform commercial work.  At the time of this writing, the Part 107 exam needs to be retaken every 24 months.  Some UAS companies are still operating under the Section 333 Exemption.  However, it appears as though the Part 107 process will be what is used in the long run.  According to the FAA, fines for illegal commercial use can be as high as $1100.00 per incident for the operator and $10,000 for the company that hired them.  Continue reading if you or your company is ok with keeping up with these regulations as they progress.

Second, you’ll need UAS-specific insurance in order to perform commercial operations.  This isn’t required by the FAA.  But, most standard general liability policies will not cover a drone-related accident.  UAS policies can be purchased on a per-flight basis or annually.  A $1M annual policy ranges from $800.00 to $1700.00 with various add-ons (waivers of subrogation, COI holder types, hull coverage, etc.).  A $4M policy is typically priced well over $3000.00 per year.

Third, let’s talk about pilot proficiency.  GPS stabilization has helped to lower the barriers to entry for drone pilots.  That said, GPS stabilization has also created an environment for stale/lifeless flying.  You’ll want to use a pilot that can fly the aircraft in a compelling fashion.  There are plenty of “floater” video examples on YouTube.  Fast motion, constant camera movement, and close-to-subject flight paths help to create more compelling product. 

At the end of the day, the drone is just a tool. It’s an artist’s paintbrush, a carpenter’s lathe, a surveyor’s transit, you get the drift.  Let’s take a wedding photographer, for example.  Sure, you could purchase a decent camera for $3500.00 and take the pictures on your own.  However, this is a forever moment and Aunt Mildred flew in from China to be there.  Do you trust yourself to obtain the same level of quality as a professional photographer/videographer?

Many of my clients made the decision to take drone operations in-house only to circle back around to outsourcing again. 

The most common reasoning:

  • Did not want to keep up with FAA regulations
  • Person in charge needs to return to original list of responsibilities
  • Lack of pilot proficiency (damaged equipment, lackluster quality)
  • Overhead


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