Life as a licensed drone operator is hard. This is our main finding from a survey we conducted on licensed drone operators in UK and in Ireland.
Late last year we ran a survey on licensed drone operators in UK and Ireland in the period Oct-Dec 2015, in an effort to better understand our market and the profile of flyers who could become our customers one day.
We already knew many of the answers to our questions from our personal experience (the founders of Skytango began life as a licensed aerial filming company in 2012), but we got the confirmation that being a licensed drone operator is difficult for many reasons, not least of all educating the market about what can and can’t be done to keep everyone happy, safe and compliant. They don’t always go hand in hand!
Life As A Licensed Drone Operator Is Hard
Licensed drone operators, as the survey highlights, struggle with the unreliability of the new drone technology, with their clients’ lack of knowledge about regulation and with competition from operators flying illegally i.e; operators who put everyone at risk by flying without the appropriate permits and insurance in controlled airspace and congested areas.
Licensed drone operators operate in a market which, even if regulated, rarely takes any actions against illegal flying and rogue commercial operations, causing de facto a race to the bottom in terms of pricing and devaluation of the compliance of practices which in turn increases risks of accidents and a worsening negative public perception of drones.
According to the survey:
- 81% of respondents has experienced technical issues while in the field
- 88% of respondents has lost out on business to less expensive unlicensed operators
- 97% of respondents reports that clients are NOT familiar with the complexities of drone flying
The top 3 problems in the industry, according to the respondents, are:
- illegal/unlicensed drone flyers operating commercially;
- lack of knowledge and education in clients on drone regulations, requirements for permissions, safety issues;
- lack of monitoring/policing/prosecuting illegal flying or rogue commercial operators
In a recent article Christopher Korody of DroneBusiness.center, commenting on an article by Jay Bregman, writes on the likelihood of success of a drone business:
“The dirty little secret is that being a freelancer is very hard”
It looks to me that the difficulties experienced by the pilots we have interviewed are shared across the ocean, and are at last emerging from the dark into the light.
Download the survey for free here, and let us know what you think:
UK And Ireland Licensed Drone Operators Survey
We interviewed a total number of 32 licensed flyers, a random sample of licensed drone flyers commercially operating in UK and in Ireland.
The results did not show any statistically significant differences between UK and Ireland operators, so we have aggregated the answers.
The majority of the interviews were conducted by our team via phone calls, while a few drone operators filled in an online form.
The drone operators answered 58 mixed qualitative/quantitative questions, which investigated:
- the profile of the licensed drone operators (eg, their demographic data, their background, reasons why they got a license etc)
- how they operate (eg, which apps they use, how they get location permissions, how they store in the cloud etc)
- how they market their services (eg, how they get clients, how they interact online with the drone community etc)
- their relationship with clients (eg, how clients understand the complexities of working with drones etc)
- their perception of the industry (eg, what their top problems are, what they think of current regulations etc)
Note On The Confidence Level Of This Survey
There are several factors impacting on the statistical validity of a survey. In particular, how well the sample represents the population is gauged by two important statistics: the survey’s margin of error and confidence level.
A survey is usually considered acceptable when it has a 95% confidence level with a 5% (or 3% or even 10%) interval. This simply means that if the survey were conducted 100 times, the data would be within 5 (or 3, or 10) percentage points above or below the percentage reported in 95 of the 100 surveys.
When we started the survey, the population of UK licensed operators was 1,071 and the Irish population was close to 100. We would have needed at least 289 respondents to get a 95% confidence level with a 5% interval.
Reaching out to 289 drone pilots, interviewing them by phone and tracking the answers would have required too big an effort from our small startup team. And honestly, we ran the survey mainly as part of our customer development strategy and to validate our business ideas, not to provide the industry with conclusive results.
So, our survey has a 95% confidence level with a 17% interval (which drops even more as some questions have a response rate lower than 100%).
This means that our survey would not be considered statistically acceptable, but we felt it was worthwhile publishing because some of the same issues still remain, and we strongly believe there are lots of interesting insights anyway.
Have a look yourself and let us know what you think.
Download the survey for free here:
Note On Drone Regulations In Ireland
Since we ran the survey, drone regulations have changed in Ireland and they now allow unlicensed drone operators to conduct commercial operations, with more limits than licensed drone operators. Just keep in mind that answers from Irish licensed drone flyers could be different if we were to re-run the survey now.
List of Questions In The Survey
1. How long have you been a professional pilot?
2. What is your gender?
3. What is your age bracket?
4. What drove you to get a license?
5. What terminology do you use when you refer to drones?
6. Did you have a background in Remote Control before going into business?
7. What type of services do you provide?
8. Do you need to be licensed for your work?
9. Do you have a website for your aerial business?
10. Which social media outlets do you use?
11. Do you subscribe to any online forums or blogs related to the industry?
12. If so, which forums or blogs do you subscribe to:
13. Do you get most of your clients through your:
14. Are you the sole owner of the business?
15. Do you operate the aerial business as a:
16. Do you find your clients mostly are:
17. Do you have a website where you sell product you own?
18. Are you looking for additional ways to make money with your business?
19. Would you like to have the chance to sell footage through a library service?
20. How often might you upload footage if you had an easy to use library?
21. If you had a library, would you pay a subscription for a good service?
22. Do you own the rigs you fly?
23. What rigs do you fly
24. How do you usually operate when working with drones?
25. If you work with someone to fly the rig are they:
26. When it comes to training, which is more true:
27. How do you practice when you train?
28. If you practice do you:
29. Do you record video during practice flights?
30. Do you service your own drone?
31. Do you keep battery logs?
32. Has a client ever asked you for your battery logs?
33. Do you find recorded flight data:
34. Do you backup your flight data?
35. Have your clients ever asked you for flight logs?
36. From the following list, what do you deliver to your clients:
37. What method of delivery do you mostly use?
38. On a scale of 1 to 5 how would rate Internet reliability for delivery?
39. Do you know what is your Internet speed?
40. Are you concerned about data protection?
41. If you store in the cloud, what platform do you use?
42. Have you experienced any technical difficulties while in the field?
43. What are the most common issues you experienced while in the field?
44. If you have put in a claim to your insurance provider, was it for:
45. Which apps do you use in the field?
46. When you are calibrating your compass on your drone, do you use a:
47. How important is it that clients know you are licensed?
48. How often are you asked for proof of license?
49. Do you lose out on business to unlicensed operators because of cost?
50. Have you had to turn down jobs because clients only wanted one shot and couldn’t afford a day rate?
51. Are your clients familiar with flying regulations?
52. Are your clients familiar with the complexities of drone flying?
53. Are your clients concerned about location permissions?
54. Who applies for location permission:
55. If no location permission is obtained, does this:
56. Drone regulations are:
57. Tell me the top problems in your industry:
58. What would you say is the top risk to your business/industry?
Download the survey for free here: