Many are realizing the benefits of drones compared with traditional means of recording video, taking photos or capturing data, and how they are bringing new capabilities to so many industries. Once companies determine to use a drone, it can be difficult to determine if they should buy their own drone(s) and hire and train pilots, or use a third-party drone service, like DroneAscent. I believe these answers will vary based on the needs of the company, just like other buy/rent or staff/contract business decisions. In this process, it is important to review the major considerations of these decisions. We’ll discuss a few of them and provide thoughts on how to approach this decision.
Evolving Drone Technology
The capabilities of drones are changing rapidly. Some are linear changes, like better camera resolution, longer flight times, or higher speeds. These improvements are similar to evaluating the purchase of a new computer. You know the features and specs available today will cost less tomorrow, or for the same price you will get more (speed and capacity). Like computers, we are seeing significant gains every 12-18 months in drones. For most basic video or photo needs, these changes shouldn’t affect a buy/hire decision.
For higher quality video and photography needs, new drones will continue to outdate drones purchased in the past at a rapid rate. A business should consider that if they want their images to appear “current”, they will need to continually upgrade their drone(s) every couple of years. The more challenging technology improvements to overcome are those that provide all new capabilities for the drone or obsolete earlier drone models. Good examples here include when:
- Thermal imaging or laser (LiDAR) cameras were first made for drones
- Preset flight paths could be set allowing the pilot to focus on the camera
- Drones started to include collision avoidance systems, allowing them to fly more safely or around objects.
These changes allow for all new flying scenarios and support new business use cases. Here, capital spent on the drone may be obsoleted quickly.
Hire and Training Pilots
There are a number of classroom and online courses to teach people how to operate a drone and to prepare drone pilots for the FAA Part 107 exam. Keeping current on FAA and local regulations can be challenging, however, as there are frequent changes and often conflicts between jurisdictions.
The real consideration for companies is: do they want to have staff dedicated as a part-time drone pilot, rather than what the employee was hired to do. In other words, construction companies are probably better at hiring and managing tradespeople rather than drone pilots.
Post Production Capabilities
Inherently, the decision to purchase or hire drone services shouldn’t be impacted by advances in post-production capabilities. In reality, drone services companies may have access to a broader set of post-production tools, such as:
- State of the art video editing software
- 3D modeling software
- Survey software
- Orthophoto stitching software
Many of these are costly to purchase or difficult to outsource. These software products can cost thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Single or Multi-Location Operations
Many companies operate within a market or limited geography, where having local pilots and drones on staff doesn’t require travel. If your operation spans multiple markets, states or regions, the cost of travel and regulation knowledge in those areas may quickly point to the benefits of hiring a multi-location, regional or national drone services provider, like DroneAscent.
Frequency of Use
The frequency of which drones are used by your business helps to offset the capital expense, depreciation, and drone pilot management. As drone applications and use of aerial video increases for your industry or application, it can help justify the buy option.
There are certain industries or applications that require quick drone access. Police and fire departments, and media outlets usually have urgent needs. If your business is unable to plan its aerial footage needs greater than 48 hours in advance, you’ll likely find it difficult to hire drone services (though sometimes local pilot organizations can respond to immediate needs).
These are just a few considerations in the buy-hire decision. Please contact us to discuss your needs and see how affordable our drone services are before you invest into your own drone resources.
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