Drone Industry Outlook For the United States: 2020-2030

The combination of the global coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 presidential election has made it a challenging year for the United States’ economy.

Nearly every industry has experienced the pain of unexpected economic shutdowns. As the race to produce a vaccine continues, we are likely to see further economic difficulties.

The Pandemic's Effect on the Drone Industry

In the short term, many industries, including the UAV industry, have been negatively impacted by current events.

For example, globally, the commercial drone market has shrunk from $4.14 billion in 2019 to $3.64 billion in 2020. Thankfully, this downturn of around a -12% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is less of a concern in the long run.

Despite the impact the virus and presidential election have had on the drone market, experts expect a strong and relatively quick recovery. By 2023, the commercial drone market will exceed previous levels and reach $6.15 billion, a CAGR of 19.09%.

This global growth is good news for the United States as they are expected to remain the second-largest market for drones, just behind the Asia Pacific region.

By 2030, the entire UAV market is set to be worth $92 billion. Compare this to the 2020 value of $9.5 billion, and you get an impressive CAGR of 25%.

Given the United States’ share of the global drone industry and its annual spending on drones — more than double all other countries combined — there is every reason to bank on the strength of the UAV industry in the United States over the next decade.

US Drone Industry Outlook

Reasons for a Positive Outlook

Several elements are contributing to the optimistic outlook for the United States drone market.

Some of the more significant factors are: the growing number of commercial drone pilots, the expansion of 5G networks across the country, and increased industry adoption of UAVs.

Let’s expand on each of these points.

The growing number of commercial drone pilots

It is important to note that the largest number of registered commercial drones is in the United States. As of Nov. 17, the FAA has a total of over 1.7 million registered drones, with about 30% of these classified as commercial UAVs. Additionally, the FAA has issued over 200,000 remote pilot certifications.

The strong numbers of both commercial drone pilots and registered UAVs speak to the growing opportunities within the United States for the industry. Additionally,  that continued growth highlights the increase in demand for commercial drone pilots with no leveling out in sight.

 

Related: 10-Year Outlook for the Drone Industry Within the United Kingdom

 

5G Expansion

While the United States doesn’t have the fastest 5G network in the world, the system is expanding. Drone technology has advanced much faster than regulators could have ever anticipated. To keep the skies safe, the FAA imposed regulations on drone pilots, limiting the potential of UAV platforms.

Rules, such as the restriction to not fly a drone beyond a visual line of sight, have prevented drones from expanding further into new use cases. As the FAA becomes more comfortable with the technology, these restrictions are becoming less rigid.

With the current FAA restrictions and 4G network, drones can perform as needed. However, they will need 5G networks to operate in the skies sooner rather than later. The growth of these networks in the United States is paving the way for accelerating the use of drones within the county.

Increased industry adoption of UAVs

UAV technology continues to benefit from a growing acceptance of its use across a diverse set of industrial applications. Several businesses that are only recently beginning to use drones on a large scale, such as insurance companies, will become significant utilizers of the platform in the near future.

Other industries, such as construction, emergency response, and energy, have also used drones for quite some time for surveys and inspections. Additionally, the FAA published airworthiness criteria for the proposed certification of 10 different Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones as special class aircraft. This is a crucial step to enabling more complex drone operations beyond what is allowed under Part 107, including package delivery.

Bringing It All Together

During the pandemic, drones have certainly proven themselves as useful tools.

Deliveries of medical supplies, test kits, and other critical items have received a great deal of publicity. People and businesses are becoming very comfortable with the beneficial uses of drones. In fact, we at Consortiq have been heavily involved in a United Kingdom medical supply delivery project!

Even more exciting are the promises of fully autonomous UAV solutions and swarm technology. Once fully developed and given regulatory approval, autonomous systems and swarms could bring about explosive growth for the UAV industry in both the United States and globally.

Sure, the coronavirus has negatively affected the short-term UAV market in the United States. However, given the significant numbers of UAVs and commercial drone pilots, a growing 5G network, and the expanding use of drones in numerous industries, there’s plenty of optimism to brighten the outlook through 2030.

If you have yet to explore the use of drones in your organization, now may be a perfect time. Complete the form below and we’ll help get you started!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Drones in the United Kingdom: A 10-Year UK Drone Industry Outlook

The year 2020 has been challenging, to say the least.

The human and economic toll of the global pandemic has had a lasting impact on us all. Hardly any industries in the UK have remained untouched by COVID-19. During lockdown, around 7.6 million jobs are at risk—a term used to encompass permanent layoffs, temporary furloughs, and reductions in hours and pay.

As a result, the UK’s GDP for 2020 is expected to shrink by 9 percent overall.

Is the Drone Industry a Saving Grace for the UK Economy?

As 2020 continues to wind down, a sense of relief can be felt as a challenging year is coming to a close.

While some industries — such as accommodations, food services, and retail — have significantly suffered, others have been more resilient. The UAV industry has fared relatively well in these trying times, and has a positive outlook for the coming decade.

Recent estimates project that, by 2030, drones will have a significant impact on the UK economy. The UAV industry is poised to increase the UK’s GDP by £42 billion and create a net cost savings for the economy of £16 billion.

Even more promising, given the furloughs caused by the pandemic, is the potential for job creation. By 2030, jobs within the UK drone industry should reach 628,000, with over 76,000 drones operating in British skies.

Drone photo of London, England

Why is the Drone Industry Growing So Much in the UK?

It is important to explore the reasons for this projected growth and positive economic contribution.

An understanding of the “why” will help you make the decision to investigate how you too can benefit from drones. The beneficial applications of drone technology produce cost-savings and improved efficiencies. The UK is taking advantage of several of these benefits to manage costs, lower risk, and improve safety.

The challenges of current conditions in the UK, and globally, will force many businesses and civic organizations to streamline budgets and innovate to stay alive.

Drones are one of the tools major industries are working with in the UK to do just that. Further expansion of their use is inevitable.

The UK’s oil and gas industry serves as an excellent example of why drones will continue to produce significant economic returns. Over the past 50 years, the industry has generated over 300,000 jobs, with around 60% of these staying within the United Kingdom.

The same period also accounts for an estimated £330 billion in production tax.

RECENT ARTICLE: Ultimate Guide to UK Drone Licenses & Regulations in 2020 and Beyond

Cost management in the oil and gas industry is best illustrated through the reduction of downtime. Imagine the daily operations on an offshore oil rig.

These engineering marvels are capable of retrieving vast amounts of resources from the ocean floor. They require extensive preventative maintenance. Many of the areas that need to be inspected are very dangerous for people.

Flare stacks, which are used for burning off flammable gases released by safety valves, require frequent inspections. When humans inspect these structures, the system must be turned off.

Drones, on the other hand, can conduct these inspections while the stack is still live. In some cases, keeping the flare stacks live can save an estimated £4 million per day.

Detecting some issues before they become significant problems helps to lower risk. Drones are now being equipped with gas detection equipment to survey pipelines and other structures with pressurized gases.

Early detection saves lives, reduces repair costs, and prevents major environmental disasters.

Drones have a positive impact on safety by reducing human exposure to unsafe conditions. Working at heights is one of the most significant contributors to workplace death and injury in the UK. Drones can inspect equipment hundreds of meters high without any risk to people.

Bringing It All Together

Benefits such as those listed above are by no means unique to the oil and gas industry. Many of the UK’s largest industries, such as utilities, public defense, health, agriculture, and construction, benefit from UAV technology for similar reasons.

Additional positive benefits for the UK, which also translate into increased UAVs utilization, can be seen in applications that benefit British citizens. Drones are seeing use by law enforcement, emergency medicine, and research.

Drones that transport medical supplies during a pandemic, such as those on the Isle of Wight, serve the greater good. Additionally, they create jobs and increase productivity.

These examples illustrate why drones are projected to have such a lasting and significant impact on the UK’s economy. With a growing list of use cases and more businesses taking a look at how they too can benefit from UAV technology, drones in the UK have a bright future for the coming decade.

If you have yet to investigate using drones now is the time. Complete the form below and we’ll help get you started!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Stanford researchers use drones to monitor penguins in Antarctica

The title says it all. Almost, anyway.

A group of researchers at Stanford University has developed a multi-drone imaging system and used it to survey colonies of nearly one million Adelie penguins in Antarctica. The findings from this study were recently published in Science Robotics.

Flying drones in Antarctica sounds tricky.

It is, and that’s precisely why this study is such a landmark for drone technology.

Prior to this study, penguin colonies were surveyed via helicopters or just one drone. Although it’s possible to get high-quality images using the helicopter method, it is expensive, potentially disturbing to the penguins, and fuel-inefficient to do so.

Meanwhile, using a single drone is time-consuming and infeasible to do at scale, because most drones have a battery life 15 minutes or less only in Antarctica. 

To overcome those limitations, Stanford’s research team, led by Mac Schwager and Kunal Shah, spent years developing a multi-drone imaging system and unique route planning algorithm.

I’m going to regret asking, but what does the algorithm do?

Let’s start by dropping the “a” word and giving it a nicer name.

The algorithm used for this study was named the Path Optimization for Population Counting with Overhead Robotic Networks, or POPCORN for short.

POPCORN partitions a given survey space, assigns destination points to each drone (the team used four drones for this study), and figures out how to move the drones through those points in the most efficient way possible, while maintaining a safe, constant distance from the ground and achieving a tunable image overlap.

That’s impressive.

Definitely.

According to the study, UAS survey routes have traditionally been based on an underlying geometric pattern, such as a “vaccuum” sweep, a spiral, or a space-filling curve.

 

Recent: Drones Help Precision Agriculture Take off in Australia

 

Although this approach allows for fast comutations, it does not necessarily work well in cases in which multiple robots are tasked with simultaneously covering an irregularly shaped area. 

The researchers write that the “geometric pattern” appraoch can also overconstrain how the coverage area is partitioned, which can lead to inefficient overall usage of multiple drones.

Because efficiency is a key component to the drone value proposition, if algorithms like POPCORN are adapted for other use cases, it could be a game changer for the drone industry.

What are the long term implications of this new method?

It’s worth noting that for years now, multi-drone systems – commonly referred to as “swarms” have been explored as potential approaches to environmental monitoring.

But this study seems to have gotten some impressive momentum, which suggests that its impact potential is quite high. Since wrapping up the penguin study in Antarctica, the researchers have deployed their multi-drone system in a number of other interesting use cases. 

In one of these use cases, they flew the drones over Mono Lake to survey the California gull population that lives near Paoha Island in the lake’s center. This time, the researchers had to boat out onto the lake to release the drones, the birds were smaller (and therefore harder to monitor), and there was a risk of losing drones in the water.

Luckily, it seems that the mission was completed without any serious issues, suggesting that POPCORN can handle a a variety of complex environments.The team has also used the system to assess vegetation for livestock grazing at a large ranch in Marin, California. 

Longer term, we could speculate that their multi-drone system will help monitor things like wildfires, tornado and hurricane damage, and other natural disasters.

By getting important data to researchers, first responders, and other decision-makers, in a quick and cost effective way, this system could result in more than a few cool publications and cute bird pictures.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Why You Should Use a Drone For Your Volumetric Surveys

Leading suppliers of excavators and construction equipment across the globe is estimated to be around $113 billion in 2020.

But, providing the machinery and equipment to support an industry, which struggles with inefficiency, would beg the question: Why aren’t most suppliers trying to offer an end-to-end solution?

Companies like Caterpillar, Bobcat, JCB and Terex all supply hardware to leaders within the construction industry, but what can drone technology offer to these companies? 

We have already started to see some manufacturing companies embrace this technology and partner with software providers to help with some inefficiencies. And, at the top of the list is managing stockpiles & forecasting, and volumetric surveys. 

Removing it from the ground is one thing, but managing accurate stock and knowing the volume is key for forecasting and logistics. Traditional surveying methods of stockpile volume calculation rely on site personnel to perform ground surveys with a Global Navigation Satellite Systems — such as GPS — receiver to determine the exact position of each measured point with pinpoint accuracy.

Using drones allows volumetric surveys to be completed in a fraction of the time it takes to conduct conventional surveys, leading to lower costs, higher productivity and improved safety.

By performing volumetric surveys with drones, you will get qualitative and quantitative data supplied in a 3D format, as well as aerial photography and video.

How accurate are volumetric surveys?

Drone surveys are proven to be more accurate than traditional ground surveying methods. And, trusting the calculations are key for site management and accounting. 

The measurements and calculations of material is key for multiple reasons:

  • Available stock to sell
  • Duration of project
  • Volumes and resources needed for earthworks extraction etc. 
  • Forecasting

Companies often perform stockpile inventory on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis, in order to carry out reporting.

Software providers such as Propeller Aero, Hybird and Pix4d all enable data to be scrutinizsed and converted into real-world context whilest enabling you to pick the important information from it. 

 

LISTEN NOW: Mohamed Hafez of HyBird Technologies discusses capturing the process with UAV data

 

According to Propeller Aero, the company “creates tools and software for construction companies, mines, quarries, and landfills to collect, process, and visualize accurate survey data. Some of the world’s leading heavy civil and resources operations trust Propeller to answer critical questions about their site’s progress, productivity, work quality, and safety.”

The data collected can also be used within different departments of any organization. New aerial images and 3D models could be used for marketing communications, or to communicate with local authorities about the project.

For companies like Caterpillar, Bobcat, JCB and Terex, to actively promote innovative ways to assist their key customers could see an increase in demand for their own products.  

Volumetric surveys with a drone
DEM - digital elevation model. Product made after processing pictures taken from a drone. It shows mine area and aggregate storage

Expert-Level UAS Support

At Consortiq, our UAS team can help you provide this level of service without the major investment of technology and/or platforms.

Our drone pilots can gather the information for you, and they provide the key results and data you need. We also use different software providers, depending on your specific requirement, all while delivering exceptional service. 

We recently wrote about the different aspects to consider when making the decision to choose a provider or start an in-house drone program.

Whichever choice you make, it’s important to consult with UAS experts prior to getting started. Experienced consultants will help you to identify your specific needs and explore the best fit to meet those needs. You’ll also get support on creating operations manuals, safety guidelines, and regulation requirements.

No matter what you choose, Consortiq has a solution for you. From unmanned data services that include aerial surveys and mapping, to extensive global remote pilot training and drone consultancy, we’ll help you put the right plan in place.

Need expert-level support? Just complete the form below or call us at 1-855-203-8825 (Americas) or +44 (0)208 0450 322 (Europe) to get started!

Lee Barfoot - Sales & Marketing EMEA at Consortiq

Lee Barfoot - Sales & Marketing EMEA at Consortiq

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

EASA provide European-wide drone registration sharing

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has created a secure, digitized system for the exchange of drone registration data among the national authorities of the European Union (EU) member states.

This represents major progress in the rollout of the latest EU drone regulations, formally known as “Commission Implementing Regulation 2019/947.” 

These regulations, which are set to go into effect on Dec. 31, 2020, after pandemic-driven postponenment, require, among other things, that drone operators register as users of their drones, via their national aviation authorities, into an EU-wide system that can be accessed by authorities in every member state.

Which drones will need to be registered under the new regulations?

Initially, the regulations call for the mandatory registration of drone operators and of “certified” drones, which tend to be larger drones that are primarily used for business purposes.

However, the regulations include additional registration requirements that will gradually be introduced over the course of the next year.   

How will drone registration impact me as a commercial drone operator?

If you are a commercial drone operator and work in multiple EU countries, this development could ultimately make your life easier, because the new system will allow you to register in one EU state and skip re-registering again and again each time you need to operate in another EU state.

However, the database corresponding to this registration system is due to be launched in increments between mid-2022 and end-2024, and until it is completely operational, you might need to put up with certain redundancies and inconveniences depending on where and when you want to operate.

Another potential upside of this development is that it’s promoting greater cohesion and transparency between EASA member states, which could make the EU a better place for drone pilots in general.

According to a EASA’s press release, the new drone registration data exchange will serve as a pilot for a larger initiative to create a fully centralized database of information on certification, oversight and enforcement, at EASA.

The idea is that this will lead to more effective cooperation between EASA and its Member States could translate into better creation and implementation of regulations that would ultimately help you. 

I’m from the UK. What happens with Brexit?

The United Kingdom government claims that throughout the Brexit transition period, its goal has been to “ensure continued transport connectivity in support of successful economic and social ties, and as part of a deep and special future relationship [with the EU.]” 

However, the CAA has stated that with less than two months to go before the end of the transition period, on 31 December 2020, there is no chance that the UK will continue to participate in EASA systems.

This is bad news.

According to the CAA, two relevant implications of its imminent separation from EASA are that:

  • In the future, there won’t be any mutual recognition agreements between the EU and the UK for aviation licences, approvals and certificates.
  • UK-issued licences and approvals that were issued when the UK was an EASA member will continue to have validity under UK law, but only those contained in EU Regulation 2019/494 will continue to have validity within the EU system, as defined by that regulation.
  • The EU will treat UK pilots and UAS operators as third country operators starting January 1, 2021.

To sum up, Brexit makes things complicated, and if you’re a UK citizen and commercial drone operator, you’ll need to check with the authorities of the EU country where you want to operate. 

I’m an EU resident. What about me?

Also, as mentioned, it’s not clear how quickly the one-registry system will go into effect across the EU.

It’s better to err on the side of caution, so unless EASA explicitly states otherwise in the coming months and years, our recommendation is that until 2025, you check with local authorities about registration requirements.

On a positive note, if you’re an EU drone pilot looking to operate in the UK, things might be a bit easier for you than your UK counterparts who want to operate in the EU. For the time being, the UK plans to minimize additional requirements for licenses, approvals and certificates from EU aviation and aerospace companies that wish to operate in the UK.

In other words, the UK is likely to honor your EU registration, either by simplifying the process of registration in the UK or waiving it entirely.

Why don’t we have just one, global registration number for drone pilots?

This is every UAS operator’s dream, but instituting a global registration system number would require levels of consensus and cooperation that are simply unprecedented in the international UAS governance space.

The EASA system, if successful, could set a precedent for a more streamlined registration system. In the meantime, foreign operators will just have to continue navigating red tape each time they want to fly in another country.

 

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About Consortiq

 

At Consortiq, we enable governments, organizations, and NGOs to utilize UAS (drone) technology by providing consultation, unmanned data services, and our internationally recognized, award-winning training. We support these organizations from proof-of-concept through implementation.

We are expert drone professionals and market leaders in providing custom and innovative unmanned technology solutions for businesses worldwide.

It’s our mission to help you understand the advantages drones can offer your organization. As a talented group of former military and civilian, rotary and fixed-wing, manned and remote pilots and former air traffic professionals, we understand the intricacies of operating drones in the national airspace system.

With headquarters in both the United States and United Kingdom, we can help you navigate the process from start to finish, globally! 

Consortiq is equipped to service companies of any size or industry. Whether we’re training your staff, or helping you scale up the operation, our broad portfolio of solutions is designed to help your organization fly safely.

Schedule your risk-free consultation below!

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

What You Need to Know About Flying Your Drone Over People

Whether you’re a drone pilot in the United States or the United Kingdom, you’ll have your fair share of regulatory limitations from either the FAA or CAA.

You may already know that you’re not able to fly out of your visual line of sight without a waiver. But, did you also know that flying over people requires similar approval?

Unless people are directly involved with the drone operation, located under a covered structure, or protected inside a stationary vehicle, you cannot fly over them.

Let’s start with the “why.”

Why Can't You Fly a Drone Over People?

Quick answer: It’s dangerous.

As with most any other regulation, it’s about safety.

The main concern posed by airspace regulatory agencies is that the drone will fall and cause injury. Many of the most popular drone models, such as DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro, weigh about three pounds.

If an error occurred while the drone was flying at 400 feet (i.e. losing GPS signal), the impact would produce 16,259 Newtons of force. That’s more than enough to kill a person fairly easily.

Additionally, drone rotors spin between 5,000 and 7,000 rpm. At that speed, the propellers become incredibly dangerous to bystanders. A gust of wind at the wrong time could lead to major lacerations.

Now, you might think it’s easy not to lose control of your drone, but that’s not always true. In the video below, you’ll see that an emergency landing was necessary after the device lost GPS signal. Had people been under the drone, the results could have been disastrous.

U.S. FAA Regulation

FAA § 107.39 states that, if you’re flying over any part of a person, even just an extended arm, it’s considered as “Operations Over Human Beings.”


The only exception to the rule is when people are directly participating with drone operation. Examples of that might include the remote pilot, the visual observer, and anyone who might maintain the perimeter to keep others out of the area of operation during flight.


Thankfully, the FAA offer a waiver to that rule. Like all waivers, it helps if an expert is there to assist you in the application process is quite thorough. It also takes about 90 days to get that waiver reviewed and approved/disapproved.

It’s also not easy to obtain. As of Oct. 15, 2020, the FAA has granted only 153 flight over people waivers. The good news is that 64 of those have been approved in 2020.

The increase in approvals this year suggests that with a professional and well-developed application, the FAA is comfortable with trusting qualified operators to fly over people.

Perhaps the most important part of the FAA’s mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. As flying a drone over people can certainly raise safety concerns, the FAA made sure this was specifically called out as one of the limitations of the Part 107 sUAS license.

How to Get the “Flying Over People” Waiver

The FAA wants you to address two issues when applying for the waiver.

First, they would like to understand the likelihood of an accident occurring as you are flying your drone over people. Second, they would like to know the severity of potential injuries caused by your drone hitting someone should there be a malfunction or operator error.

 

Related Article: BVLOS Waiver – What You Need to Know

 

Likelihood is primarily a review of how safe your operation of UAVs is. As an organization that uses drones for commercial purposes, you have probably established standard operating procedures and training manuals.

In addition to these materials, the FAA would like to see detailed records of any incidents that happen, which shouldn’t normally occur. Examples might include drone malfunctions or pilots crashing drones into people or property.

For incidents such as those mentioned, you should identify any hazards or trends that have been recurring. More importantly, it would be best to show you have developed fixes for aircraft issues and have mitigations in place to prevent human errors.

Severity assumes a situation where a drone does fail will occur. If this situation were to happen, how bad could the potential damage be?

To mitigate the potential damage, the FAA looks for drones to fall into one of three categories.

Category 1 drones are very small, typically less than 0.55 pounds. A UAV of this weight is not likely to cause any damage.

Category 2 drones are considered to cause a minimal amount of injury or damage. The drone’s kinetic impact should not be capable of exceeding 11 ft. pounds of energy transfer.

Category 3 drones can cause more damage, not to exceed 25 ft. pounds of energy transfer.

Likelihood and severity combined help to determine whether or not a waiver is granted. To have the best chance of getting approval to fly over people, most organizations should consult the help of experts in the field.

By some estimates the rejection rate for these waivers is in the high 90% range. A reputable drone consulting firm will be able to access your organization’s needs and prepare you for the application process.

A 107.39 waiver can open a whole new world of opportunities for your UAV operations. Take the time to understand the balance between likelihood and severity for your organization. Develop appropriate mitigation techniques to make your operations safe and submit a waiver application with procedures and data to back up your claims of being a safe and responsible utilizer of UAV technology.

U.K. Regulation

Within the UK, Article 95(2)(d) states that you should never fly your drone or model aircraft closer than the defined legal distances. These are defined within the article as a distance of no less than 50 metres

However, with the introduction of the Drone and Model Aircraft Education and Registration Service (DMARES) last November (2019), and ‘several UAS incidents,’ the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had to issue a safety notice (Number: SN–2020/002) this past January.

The safety notice was to provide additional guidance to remote pilots in the form of suggested best practice when considering flight over people, in accordance with articles 95(2)(d) or 95(3) of the Air Navigation Order (ANO).

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Upcoming European UAS Regulations

It also served as a reminder to ensure operators were “reasonably satisfied that a flight can be safely made” (Air Navigation Order article 94(2)), as the law states.

When the 50m rule was introduced within the ANO, some ambiguity surrounded it.

Examples such as ‘string attached to the drone,’ or it being referred to as the ‘50m bubble’ rule, have been discussed at length. Where flights that need to be conducted within congested areas, and where careful planning is essential, we’ve seen operators use the Pythagorean theorem to work out the minimum viable distance and heights to stay legal.

Either way, the rules are clear and simple:

  • Never fly closer than 50m to people.
  • Distance can be reduced for take-off and landing to 30m. 

Even though hovering your drone at ‘51m’ directly above an uninvolved person may be legal and, as per Article 95, it’s safer to avoid flying or hovering directly over them, you’re responsible for flying safely whenever you fly (Article 94(2)).

Crowds of more than 1,000 people

If you want to fly near crowds greater than 1000 uninvolved persons, the 50m rule extends to 150m.

The standard states that you can fly above uninvolved persons, but that’s not the case for gatherings of this size. As an operator, you are never to fly above crowds at any height. 

A crowd is defined as any organised, open-air gathering of more than 1,000 people.

This includes:

  • Sporting events
  • Music festivals or concerts
  • Marches or rallies
  • Carnivals

Within the UK, if you want to operate within these restrictions, you will need to apply to the UK’s CAA for an Operating Safety Case (OSC) to reduce these distances. You’ll also need to have deep pockets, and your organisation must have operating experience that clearly demonstrates safe, compliant and competent operations.

Bringing It All Together

No matter where you’re flying, you’ll need some type of clearance to fly over people … or to avoid doing it altogether.

If your job requires drone flights over people to limit shutdowns and disruption, or to capture more compelling footage, then we’re here to help you achieve those goals. The best way to get started is to speak with our team of UAS experts as part of a risk-free drone consultation.

Whether you want the know-how to do it yourself and the waivers to go along with it, or you’d rather us do the work for you, we’ve got you covered.

There’s no reason to put a limit on your innovation. With Consortiq, there’s always a better way. Complete the form below to schedule your consultation, drone training, or drone service today!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Operation? Complete This Form to Get Started!

BVLOS Waiver: Here’s What You Need to Know

How to Use Your Drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight

Many technological advances within the drone industry are limited in real-world applications, due solely to unfavorable regulations.

For example, in the United States, commercial drone pilots must always maintain a visual line of sight with any drone they are operating. While technology allows for flight well beyond this limit, such operation would be illegal without changing regulations.

A classic example of the negative impact of this regulation can be found in oil pipeline inspections. Pipelines extend for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles across vast landscapes.

Drones can cover these distances much more efficiently than humans can. However, under current regulations, operators are required to move every two-to-three miles in order to keep the drone within sight. Thus, the benefit of using the drone is not maximized.

Thankfully, if you’re willing to do the work, you can get a waiver from the FAA, or other airspace authorization body, to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).

While getting that waiver is possible, you’re more likely to be approved with expert help. Here’s what to know about the BVLOS waiver.

What is a BVLOS Waiver?

Each country has its own rules and regulations regarding a BVLOS waiver.

As an example, we will use the United States. Once a commercial drone pilot has a Part 107 license from the FAA, that pilot can begin flying … within the license’s limits.

 

Related: The Benefits of Part 107 Test Preparation Courses

 

Every remote pilot in command must operate the drone in a manner that allows them to see the drone and its orientation at all times. With a Part 107.31 Visual Line of Sight Aircraft Operation waiver, though, you can fly without having a visual fix on the drone.

For example, let’s assume that you’re flying your drone around a large, cylindrical storage tank at an oil refinery inspecting for signs of corrosion. If you only have a Part 107 license, you will need to walk around the tank as your drone inspects it, always keeping an eye on its location.

With a Part 107.31, you can let the drone fly behind the tank — out of your line of sight — and complete the task more quickly.

How to Get the BVLOS Waiver

The FAA has issued very few Part 107.31 waivers.

In fact, as of October 2020, only 61 have been approved. By comparison, the FAA has issued well over 4,000 waivers for flying at night.

Your hopes of getting a waiver will depend on the strength of your BVLOS waiver application. Given the low number of approved applications to date, you’ll want to consult an expert.

 

Related: UAS Night Operations – Are You Still in the Dark?

 

While there’s no template for a successful BVLOS waiver published by the FAA, successful applications have had a few common elements which you should include to increase your chances of approval.

Let’s break those elements down a bit.

 

Standard Operating Procedures

 

Standard operating procedures highlight the professionalism and experience inherent within your organization.

These should be well organized, and cover everything from onboarding and training to all aspects of drone operations in which you or your pilots participate. To increase your chances of success, make sure that your procedures include the type of work you are looking to accomplish with a BVLOS waiver.

 

C2 Equipment

 

Next, you’ll want to include a detailed explanation of your command & control (C2) equipment.

C2 is an essential part of the application. The FAA will want to know what transmitters you are using to control the drone, in great detail.

You’ll also need to identify the maximum range of your transmitter ,and how you plan to maintain control of the drone at all times. To do that, make sure to include information about the equipment’s FCC ID number, both on the ground control station and on the drone.

 

Flight Safety

 

Flight safety is perhaps the most critical section.

After all, you are requesting a waiver based on your assurance that operations will remain safe at all times. It’s best practice to have a well-developed mitigation plan for every reasonable situation which could arise.

That plan should include a synopsis on how you will detect and avoid collisions, or other dangers. This will be a significant focus of the approval process.

Ready to Apply?

Getting you BVLOS waiver is possible, but you’ve got some work ahead of you.

You’ll need to carefully construct a thorough application, which takes time, resources, and extensive knowledge of your use-case. Want to improve your chances? We’re here to help!

At Consortiq, our drone consultant team specializes in creating the right plan for your specific situation. Whether you need to fly at night, over people, or beyond your line of sight, we’ve helped companies around the world obtain specialized waivers in order to achieve their specific goals. We’re ready to help you get your drone safely into the sky.

And, we’ll train your team of pilots to ensure that you’re always within airspace & safety guidelines.

Would you rather just hire a team to go out and do the work for you? We do that, too!

Just complete the form below to get started with your risk-free consultation today!

 

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Pandemic-fueled innovation: an overview of recent drone delivery breakthroughs

We’ve written previously about how the pandemic has accelerated the development of drone solutions for contact-free delivery, surveillance, enforcement, and hygiene applications.

We’ve gone so far as to suggest that progress in drone medical delivery solutions might be quickly followed by progress in retail delivery solutions. Over the past several weeks, we’ve seem to be seeing this play out, with multiple major retailers reaching new milestones in their drone delivery programs and an uptick in public support for drone delivery.

In this article, I’ll summarize these exciting developments.

An uptick in demand and regulatory cooperation

Before COVID-19, the research firm MarketsandMarkets estimated that drone delivery (both air and ground-based) would generate revenue of around $800M in 2020.

More recently, the firm has updated those estimates to $1 billion and has revised its forecast for 2022 from $1.6 to $2.2 billion. According to the Economist, many other analysts agree with these estimates.

On top of this, regulators have been more flexible than ever in granting exemptions and authorizations for drone delivery programs. For instance, in Canada, authorities have given authorization to a coalition of companies who are using drones to safely supply the remote Beausoleil First Nation and other First Nations.

Similarly, in April, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration granted exemptions to its commercial drone prohibitions to 30 companies. And in March, the UK, government allocated millions to support the development of drone delivery solutions that would serve the Isle of Wight during the pandemic. 

Moving past these general trends, let’s take a look at some “success stories” about global leaders in retail that seem to be accelerating their delivery programs during these challenging times.

Amazon

On Aug. 29, Amazon finally received federal approval to operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones. According to the FAA, the approval will give Amazon broad privileges to “safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers.”

While the Prime Air fleet isn’t ready to immediately deploy drone deliveries at scale, representatives say that it is actively flying and testing the technology.

Walmart

On Sept. 9, Walmart launched a pilot project which will focus on delivering select grocery and household essential items from Walmart stores using the Israeli firm Flytrex’s automated drones in Fayetteville, N.C. 

Representatives at the world’s biggest retailer have been tight-lipped on details of the program, so it’s not clear how many drones are involved in the pilot and what checks (if any) customers need to make before receiving a delivery.

That said, Flyrex boasts that its delivery drones are the optimal solution for suburb environments, so it would follow that remote customers or city-dwellers might not be the best candidates to test the service at this stage of development.

While this type of delivery solution has been tested since 2015, and thus cannot be fully attributed to the pandemic, there are a few use cases that Walmart seems to have launched directly in response to COVID-19.

On Sept. 22, Walmart announced a partnership with Quest Diagnostics and DroneUp, whereby it would perform deliveries of COVID-19 test collection kits in North Las Vegas (in September) and Cheektowaga, New York (in early October.)

The program will serve eligible patients who live in a single-family residence within a 1-mile radius of the designated Supercenters in North Las Vegas and Cheektowaga. And given that Walmart owns the UK supermarket chain Asda, it has been suggested that the solutions could expand to the UK. 

Beyond that, according to Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of consumer products, Walmart hopes that drone delivery of self-collection kits “will shape contactless testing capabilities on a larger scale and continue to bolster the innovative ways Walmart plans to use drone delivery in the future.” 

Walgreens and Wing

Walgreens and Wing, (owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company), have been partnering since September 2019 to test “store to door” delivery of products via drone.

As part of this partnership, Wing has been delivering “health and wellness, food and beverage and convenience items” to Walgreens customers in Christiansburg, Va. 

Once the pandemic hit, the company expanded their offering to meet the residents’ mounting needs. Their offerings now include more kid-friendly products like crayons, markers and games; food staples such as pasta, canned soup and mac and cheese; and household cleaning supplies such as facial tissue and, you guessed it, toilet paper.

For Christiansburg residents, the drone delivery service had already been a novelty, but many families reported that once the pandemic hit, it became a source of entertainment, inspiration, and distraction for antsy kids and worried parents alike.

Some families reported ordering a weekly lunch from Walgreens, and others said they ordered things they didn’t really need simply for an excuse to watch a drone come to their house. 

Anecdotes aside, Wing reports that its drone delivery orders in Virginia and Australia rose precipitously when stay-at-home orders were put in place in March and April. Since Wing has been met with privacy concerns and noise complaints by certain residents in Canberra, Australia, one of its first test sites, the rapid increase in demand suggests that the company is finally winning the public over there.

Tesco and Manna Aero

Meanwhile Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer, is working with Manna, a drone delivery startup based in Dublin, Ireland, to kick off a six-month drone delivery trial starting in October .

The trial will consist of delivering “small baskets” of essentials from its Oranmore store in Co Galway, Ireland, where Manna has a license to operate. Ultimately, Tesco representatives claim that the aim is to develop the capability of delivering these small baskets to customers within 30 minutes to an hour of ordering, a capability which the company thinks will expand their reach to include potential customers for whom getting to the store is inconvenient or difficult.

Manna, for its part, had planned a takeaway food delivery trial in March but changed its focus to medicines during the coronavirus pandemic. Since April, it has been working with the Health Service Executive to deliver medicines and other essential supplies to vulnerable people in the small rural town of Moneygall.

The Path Forward

There are two key mechanisms through which the pandemic seems to be accelerating the development and deployment of drone delivery solutions. 

First, because the pandemic has made contactless delivery a necessity, not just a nice-to-have feature, it is leading to the resolution (or at least temporary suspension) of technical and regulatory blockers to progress. 

Second, the pandemic is providing a fantastic PR opportunity to retailers that want to promote their drone delivery solutions and develop goodwill with the public.

By accelerating the development and social acceptance of drone delivery services, the pandemic seems to be helping retailers, regulators, and drone solutions providers to kick drone delivery up a notch.

Hopefully, they can maintain momentum once the pandemic is over.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Secure, but not safe?

The tension between firefighting drones and national drone security regulations.

It’s no secret that North America – and the west coast of the U.S. in particular – has had a particularly bad wildfire season this year.

As of September 29,  70 active fires have burned over 3.9 million acres across the United States, and evacuation orders across the west coast remain in place near 17 large fires.

And that’s just active fires. The US National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that, to date, there have been 4,091 wildfires which have burned 7.4 million acres across the country.

That’s over 1 million more acres burned than the 10-year average. 

Although the ultimate solution to this problem likely lies in more sustainable housing development, better forest management, power infrastructure upgrades, and other regulatory and business measures, drones can play a critical role in mitigating some of the damage that forest fires cause.

Unfortunately, policymakers and drone operators haven’t yet figured out how to balance national security concerns with an optimally effective fire response.

What are drones doing to help forest fire responses?

Over the years, drones have come to play an important role in the detection, containment, and extinguishing of forest fires, primarily by providing firefighters with accurate data.

Equipped with LiDAR, infrared cameras, and other sensors, drones can map fire-prone areas and, in the event of a fire, capture data on fire spread/speed, heat concentration, smoke, and other variables, all of which can be combined to help predict where a fire will move next.

This helps decision-makers make more strategic choices on firefighting, and evacuation, and other response factors.

Where are they doing this?

All over the West.

But here are some examples:

  • In Colorado, firefighters are using drones to deploy “Dragon Eggs” —  small explosives that combat wildfires by eating up the wildfire’s fuel. 
  • Near the Big Hollow wildfire in Washington, the FAA granted pilots of Verizon subsidiary Skyward, a temporary waiver from September 23 to 25, that allows them to fly the Percepto Sparrow drone from their homes to inspect critical communications infrastructure. The waiver lets them do this 24 hours a day, with less than 3 miles of visibility, and no pilot or observer on site. 
  • The Los Angeles Fire Department has been using drones to go where flame retardant-dropping planes and helicopters can’t go since at least 2017.

So how are regulations getting in the way?

In January this year, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) grounded its 810-drone fleet and stopped procuring Chinese-made drones over concerns that information about critical infrastructure could be leaked to the Chinese government. 

This move was in alignment with the proposed American Security Drone Act of 2020, which seeks to ban federal departments and agencies from purchasing any commercial off-the-shelf drone or small unmanned aircraft system manufactured or assembled in China or other countries identified for national-security concerns. 

It would seem that security comes at a cost, however. An internal memo from the department’s Office of Aviation Services, leaked to The Financial Times, says the decision is hampering the DOI’s ability to fight wildfires.

Although technically DOI still allows its drones to be used for emergency situations like disaster monitoring, the memo suggests that decision has stymied necessary measures that would have equipped the fleet to effectively fight fires.

How so?

According to the memo, by the end of 2020,  the department will only have carried out 28 percent of the controlled burning it could have done had it followed through on its plan to purchase 17 new Ignis systems, which work with heavy-lift machines like DJI’s M600 Matrice and are used to start controlled fires

Without them, the internal memo says the department has had to either use aircraft manned by firefighters — putting lives at risk — or not carried out the burning at all.

“Denying the acquisition of UAS [drone] aerial ignition devices directly transfers risk to firefighters who must use manned aircraft to complete these missions rather than a safer option utilizing UAS,” the memo states.

Will this impact other federal agencies?

Quite possibly.

In letters written in September 2019 and obtained by The New York Times, Stephen L. Censky, the deputy secretary of the Department of Agriculture, told the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget that the agency had major concerns with the law.

Censky wrote that the American Drone Security Act would “severely impact the establishment, development and implementation” of the Agriculture Department’s drone program “to carry out our mission-crucial work.”

Surely there is another side to the story.

Absolutely.

While DJI has decried the move to ban Chinese drones as a “protectionist ploy to exclude successful competitors in favor of domestic suppliers that don’t exist,” and a threat to forest conservation, the decision to ban Chinese-manufactured drones was based on more than protectionism.


Federal officials have been saying that they are worried that DJI drones are sending data back to China as early as 2017, although DJI has firmly denied this accusation. In that same year, the Army banned its employees from using DJI products.

There seems to be a strong, bipartisan belief that the ban is necessary to prevent the Chinese government from seeing what the United States government is seeing through DJI drone flights.

What now?

While it may be too late to turn things around for the wildfires of 2020, if the act makes it through the legislative process, all is not lost for firefighting drone efforts.

On a federal level, it all comes down to whether or not it’s viable to replace the Chinese-manufactured drones in agency fleets with drones manufactured in the U.S. or an allied country.

Currently, the supply chain for materials and components does not support an adequately scaled production of comparable platforms in the United States.

For instance, the California startup, Skydio, makes its drones in the U.S. but still uses some Chinese parts. Its chief executive, Adam Bry, told the New York Times in February that all the core components were American, and that the company was moving away from using the Chinese parts altogether.

Similarly, Paris-based drone manufacturer Parrot is set to release its latest platform, ANAFI USA.

The drone is said to be manufactured in the U.S., and designed with the needs of first responders, firefighters, search-and-rescue teams, security agencies, surveying and inspection professionals, in mind. And, it has a sensor and software ecosystem that features 32x zoom, 4K HDR video, and thermal imaging capabilities. 

On a state and local level, things may be (for the time being at least) simpler.

The American Drone Security Act of 2020 doesn’t seem to prohibit procurement of Chinese-manufactured drones by non-federal agencies, meaning that the L.A. Fire Department, which has a strong working relationship with DJI and was looking to double its fleet of firefighting drones in 2019, will likely be able to carry on with their procurements and possibly use the pending legislation to pressure Chinese manufacturers to take greater measures to assure them of data security. 

Regardless of the fate and implication of the Drone Security Act of 2020, it highlights a tension between safety, security, and affordability, and shows that “drones for good” use cases are the product of difficult decisions and compromise. 

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

How drones could prevent utility equipment from starting forest fires

The 2018 Camp Fire forest fires resulted in over $16 billion in damage, claimed 85 lives, and was recorded as the 13th deadliest wildfire in California’s state history.

According to state investigators, the fire started when a hook on a Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) electrical transmission tower (Tower 27/222) broke during heavy winds, dropping a wire which threw sparks into the dry brush below.

PG&E has received a lot of flack for failing to take basic precautions which would have likely prevented this catastrophe.

What do you mean?

For starters, the Caribou-Palermo transmission line – of which Tower 27/222 was a part – was originally built in 1921, meaning it was around 97 years old in 2018.

Despite owning the line since 1930, PG&E had not replaced much of the original hardware. State regulators claim that PG&E’s inspection and maintenance plan for the transmission line prior to the fire was “ineffective,” and a report by the Butte County District Attorney called PG&E’s reliance on outdated and under-inspected equipment “negligent and reckless.”

An obvious way for PG&E to protect its credibility, moving forward, would be to make a notable improvement in its inspection protocol.

I’m guessing this snapshot is going to have something to do with drone inspections.

That’s right.

But, let’s do an overview of what’s being inspected first.

PG&E operates over 5,000 miles of high-voltage wires in Califirnia’s drought-prone forests. To make matters worse, the Wall Street Journal analyzed PG&E’s 20 “worst performing lines,” and found that 16 of them are in high-risk fire areas.

The combination of failure-prone transmission lines in fire-prone areas is thought to be a significant and unacceptable hazard, and a recipe for a repeat of 2018.

Part of the solution is more frequent inspections, but many lines and towers are hard to reach, making those inspections and resulting repairs difficult. That’s where drones come in.

PG&E is upgrading its system inspections program by using drones, computer vision, and machine learning, to better detect problems before another fire is started. 

How do drone inspection solutions work?

In a nutshell, drones are deployed to gather data such as thermal imaging, LiDAR, and sometimes multispectral imaging, for critical infrastructure, such as distribution poles and transmission towers.

This generates terabytes and terabytes of data.

Computer vision and machine learning are then trained to classify this data and identify subtle deviations from the norm, such as the beginnings of corrosion or other damage to components.

This helps utility companies prioritize which components to replace or keep a close eye on before things get out of hand, as they did in the case of the Camp Fire.

How far along is PG&E’s program?

PG&E’s program — which has been in development since at least 2016 — is currently being used to predict how transmission equipment will handle high-wind events, to help operations staff prioritize maintenance work, and to help PG&E leadership decide whether to shut off power to a high-risk area during severe weather conditions.

Although high fire-risk areas are a top priority, the plan is to expand to lower risk areas and inspect over 15,000 miles of electrical lines in 2020.

What are the main benefits of a drone inspection program like this?

There are many.

First, these types of programs can relieve inspectors and electrical workers of routine tasks. For instance, during the inspection process, a program like the one described can alleviate the need to scan hundreds of images of each structure in a high-fire-risk area to find a right-of-way or access path for maintenance and repair workers.

This allows for more focus to be put on identifying and mitigating fire risks. 

Second, once the computer vision and machine learning are adequately trained, these programs can reduce human error and speed up response time when issues are found. 

Finally, by reducing the need for manned inspections, drone inspection programs can reduce safety hazards for the inspection crews of utilities companies like PG&E. (For more information on how drones improve infrastructure inspections, see our article, “Three Reasons Drones Improve Infrastructure Inspections.”)

Will this program prevent future forest fires?

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) estimates that about 10 percent of the state’s wildfires are triggered by power lines.

A 10% reduction in wildfires would be a notable accomplishment for California, especially given the large scale of recent incidents, such as the Camp Fire.

(It’s also worth noting that federal investigators are looking into whether the more recent Bobcat Fire could have been caused by another utility company’s faulty equipment.)

The good news is that PG&E’s case seems to be inspiring other utility companies to develop similar drone programs. At the end of 2019, San Diego Gas & Electric started using drones and computer vision to inspect its distribution equipment in high-risk areas.

And similarly, in March of 2020, Southern California Edison announced that it was piloting a program that uses drones to inspect distribution and transmission lines in high-risk fire areas.

But unfortunately, better inspections by themselves will not eliminate the risk of utility-driven forest fires.

California has 25,526 miles of higher voltage transmission lines, and 239,557 miles of distribution lines, two-thirds of which are overhead, according to the CPUC. 

Since it’s so hard to maintain and inspect overhead lines – especially old ones –  many have suggested that the only truly effective way to prevent future forest fires is to move the lines underground, where harsh weather conditions are less likely to cause sparks.

But, according to PG&E’s website — Facts about Undergrounding Power Lines — it costs about $3 million per mile to convert underground electric distribution lines from overhead lines, and it costs $800,000 to build a mile of new overhead line.

So, until residents of California are willing to experience a massive hike in electricity costs, it’s likely that drones will be critical to minimizing the risks brought about by California’s aging electrical infrastructure.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!