Picking out your first drone is an important decision and should be considered carefully. If you are going to use your drone for commercial operations, the price should not be your first consideration. Some pilots getting into the business have experience flying drones while others have never flown before. If you have some flight time or own a drone already, then you may know what drone will work for your business needs. If you’re not sure about what drone will work for your business, then we have some things to consider above and beyond the price. Remember, you want to be a pro so you’ll have to spend the money to get the right solution for your business.
The drone you want for business is the one that will produce the product you will be providing to your clients. This may sound like common sense, but there’s more to consider. The equipment on the drone is certainly the biggest consideration. Does the camera shoot in the resolution you require? What are the options on frame rate? Is the equipment interchangeable? Can additional equipment be attached to it? These are some questions that should be asked first, but then consider the drone itself. How big or small is it? How does it handle wind and other weather elements? What do you anticipate the life of the drone to be? Real estate photography is going to be a lot different than cell tower inspections even if the product produced is just photographs. Do your research and know what your buying as it relates to your business and the products and services you will offer.
Ease of use is something that many pilots don’t think about but can be important and should be considered. When you roll up on a job, what will be your preflight look like and what will it take to break down and move to the next job. Some drones can travel with props on in the case, no gimbal lock, and be ready to fly in minutes after a preflight inspection. Other drones will require a lot more time to attach props, cameras, etc. They may need to be disassembled and packed up to travel. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily but it takes time on each job and most new pilots aren’t aware of it until they get into the field and start working. If your business model is based on volume, a drone that requires extra time for setup and breakdown may not be the best fit. If your planning on doing high-end inspection work, ease of use may not even be a consideration and probably shouldn’t be. It’s simply something to think about when purchasing your first drone.
Technology moves quickly in the drone industry so be aware of that as it relates to your drone purchases. There have been plenty of pilots that have spent a lot of money gearing up their first drone with extra batteries, hard cases, charging stations, replacement props, etc. and then watched in agony as a superior drone was introduced a few months later. Or crashed their first drone and figured out that it made more sense to buy the newer drone than fix the old one, leaving them with a lot of useless batteries and accessories. Know that this happens and plan accordingly.
Part of the planning for new technology can include multiple drone purchases at different times. If you’re going to be in the drone business, you should consider having more that one drone. Nothing is worse than having a full day of flying planned and your only drone fails. Without a backup, you could lose jobs or even worse clients. If you are smart about your drone purchases, you can have multiple drones that do similar things but still have a specialized purpose. For example, you may have two drones that can do mapping work but one is better in the wind and provides higher resolution photos. That may be your go-to mapping drone but if it fails, you can still get the job done with the other drone in a pinch. Although the second drone doesn’t perform like the mapping drone, it may have special capabilities of its own. Perhaps it’s smaller and quieter which is the drone you prefer when doing jobs near people or in neighborhoods. Once again, if that drone fails, the mapping drone could still do the same work, it’s just not your preference for that kind of work.
If you plan on multiple drones, you may find that rotating your inventory is a good solution to address the speed of technology and always be prepared. As a new pilot in the industry, focus on your first drone purchase but plan for your next even if you don’t know what it is yet. You should be fine with a single drone as you learn to fly, or accumulate flight hours and start your business. Keep an eye on the new technology and do your research to determine if it’s something that will make you money. When it makes sense, you can make a new purchase but keep the older drone as a backup or a drone for specific purposes.
Ultimately, know what your buying and why. If you’re not sure what markets, products, or services you will offer yet, get a drone that has the potential to provide commercial quality but isn’t too expensive… and anticipate a possible additional purchase in the near future.
Drones are relatively easy to fly, but to be good with the equipment takes time and experience. If you’re going to be a pro, you need more than a certification. You need flight time so do your research, buy your first drone, and start getting those hours.