Wouldn’t it be better to just buy a drone and do my own surveys?
Maybe, but the cost of training a pilot, applying for permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (a legal requirement), purchasing the drone, associated equipment and specialist software, and insuring it all, would probably not be cost effective unless you use the drone on a regular basis.
Why not just employ the local drone operator?
Very few commercial drone operators are also trained ecologists. Employing a regular drone operator would require a significant input from the ecologist or whoever has commissioned the work. AeroEcology Ltd pilots are all trained ecologists so know what is required to map habitats, search for bat roosts in trees & buildings, check out habitat suitability of ponds etc. In fact, we are able to complete a full survey & assessment, for example, a Phase 1 Habitat Survey or Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) survey, without the need for any further ecological input, should this be required.
But drone surveys are so expensive, aren’t they?
Not necessarily. Whilst there is a lot of preparation needed and both equipment and insurance costs are relatively high, surveys can be conducted relatively quickly, ultimately saving time and money. The use of drones is sometimes the only way to conduct a survey, such as where there is inhospitable habitat, like extensive mires and bogs, or land where permission has not been obtained for access on foot.
Isn’t it illegal to fly over someone’s land without their permission?
No, not usually. There are restrictions where drones can fly, but these are mainly around airports, power stations, prisons etc. Land owners cannot prevent a drone flying over their land providing it keeps within normal flight parameters (generally, 50m from any person, building or vehicle, no further than 500m from the operator, no higher than 120m above ground level). You also need permission to use the land for take-off and landing and secure a 30m radius that is free of any people, vehicles or buildings that are not under your control. The Drone Code provides more information if you want to know more.
What is the difference between a Drone and an SUAV?
Nothing. They are the same thing. SUAV, or Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, is the technical term used by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Drone is the colloquial term most used in the press and by the public. Unfortunately, drones have had a bad press lately, partly due to their use by the military (though these are much larger, fixed wing aircraft, nothing much like the small quad-copters we mostly use), and partly due to the incident at Gatwick Airport as well as other similar incidents
What is an Orthomosaic?
An Orthomosaic is a high-resolution photograph that is composed of tens to hundreds of overlapping individual photographs, normally taken during an automated flight following grid pattern across a site, then all stitched together using specialist software. The Orthomosaic maps we produce are all geo-tagged and GIS linked, at a resolution of 2.6 to 5.2 cm per pixel, dependent upon the number of photographs taken and the height above ground level. This compares very favourably to the meagre 15m per pixel promised by Google Earth.
How close can you fly to an object or habitat you are surveying?
Our drones are fitted with all-round anti-collision sensors that can be set to as little as 0.5m. The sensors prevent the drone from getting any closer, to avoid impact. However, for general purposes, we set our sensors to 1m, which is more than adequate to get a close up picture of say, a roof, or individual plants on a cliff side. We can also land remotely and get down and dirty with any habitat we are surveying, though this can be hazardous so we tend to hover at around 1.5-2m to get a “normal” viewpoint (as if the photo was taken by a person standing up straight)!
Where do you operate? Which areas do you cover?
We work throughout the British Isles (UK & Ireland). Prices we quote include travel time and accommodation (where this applies), though we have a network of pilots across the UK and combine jobs wherever possible, to try and keep travel time and costs to a minimum.
Why don’t you publish your prices?
There are just too many variables. Site accessibility, the number of hazards at a site, the kind of work that is required, the site location, the level of preparation and post-processing required etc all have a bearing on the cost so no one price fits all. We prefer therefore to cost every job individually.
What kind of packages do you offer?
Each job is tailored to the requirements of the individual client. To ensure we are clear on what you require, we talk through your project and your ultimate aim, before preparing a quotation. This can be flexible with the potential for add-ons, but we prefer at least a firm basis upon which to work, before we make a start. For example, you may just require some simple photographs of a site to aid in a Phase 1 Habitat Survey or Preliminary Ecological Assessment. You may require an inspection of the roof of a building to aid in a bat survey. Or you may want to map habitats on a large site accurately and to a high resolution, in a repeatable way, so will need some high-resolution, GIS compatible mapping. But in any case, before we provide a quotation and suggested work programme, we will send you a full list of possible options to chose from and perhaps suggest the ones that would suit you and your project best.
What kind of restrictions are there that may hinder an aerial survey?
The main restrictions are ‘no fly zones’ such as those around airports, power stations and prisons. At the site level, the presence of numerous buildings or people (beyond the control of the landowner or drone operator), power cables, busy roads, or the absence of suitable take off & landing (for which, a clear 30m radius is needed) are the main restrictions that may hinder or in some circumstances, preclude an aerial survey. It is possible to get special exemptions to fly in what would otherwise be a restricted area, but these special permissions from the Civil Aviation Authority and/or the Airport or other restricted area, can take several weeks or months to organise and there is no guarantee that permission to fly will be granted. Where the restriction is more localised, the use of spotters, cordoned-off areas, crowd control measures, or very early morning flights etc, could be used, but these unfortunately can bump up the cost somewhat. All these things are weighed up during the pre-assessment and fee proposal stage, so there should be no surprises or unforeseen problems, once work starts.
The one thing that can’t be controlled is the weather! SUAVs cannot (normally) fly in the rain or during windy conditions (>25mph). For that reason, we normally allow for a fall-back date, agreed with the client in advance, should a survey planned for a particular date be rained off.