by Ian Wills | Nov 10, 2021 | Blog, General Info, Operations, Podcast, Uncategorized
The Cost / Benefit Analysis
There are countless examples of efficiencies that can be realized when a company decides to run their own drone program. In many cases, the demand for flying is just so specific or frequent, that it only makes sense for a company to do it themselves. Having said that, no matter what the size or complexity of your drone operation, there are certain considerations that every operator should be aware of. In this article, we’ll show you how to decide if an internal company drone program makes sense, or if that is something that would be better outsourced to a third party.
“To build an in-house drone program, we estimate that your initial costs will be between $32,600 to $75,100 for your first drone. Each additional drone will have an initial cost of $12,600 to $55,100.”
Drone Program Cost Factors
To make an informed decision, we’ll start by pricing out the costs that should be considered when planning and building an internal drone program. There are 6 major categories that we’ll consider:
It’s important to note that the prices that we have used for each component of a drone program may vary compared to what your actual costs would be. Tinker with our data to tailor the results to more accurately reflect your actual costs.
In Canada, whenever you are flying a drone weighing between 250 grams and 25 kg you are required to have either a Basic or Advanced Drone Pilot Certificate. For those thinking of starting their own corporate drone program, the Advanced Drone Pilot Certificate is likely what you will want for a few reasons. First, if your employees are flying around thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment above millions of dollars’ worth of assets, then you probably want a higher level of training. Second, the odds are very good that your insurance company will probably also share this line of thinking with you. Finally, if you are flying your drone near an airport, then your decision may already be made since you cannot fly a drone without an Advanced certificate within about 5.6 km of an airport or 1.8 km of a heliport.
Using our training costs as a sample, you can expect to pay $600 per employee to get their Advanced Drone Pilot Certificate. For renewals, we offer a course that is $50 and this must be done every 2 years after gaining your initial certification. Our Advanced training is approximately 20 hours of coursework, plus a few additional hours of studying for the exam, and then the time required to complete the in-person flight review, usually a couple hours including site travel. Additionally, if your work involves operating around uncontrolled aerodromes, it might be prudent to consider getting your ROC-A radio certification, which typically costs around $50 for the online exam.
There are a number of factors to consider when looking at insurance for your drone program. The three most relevant types of insurance are; Aviation Liability; Commercial General Liability and Errors and Omissions and they cover you for different aspects of your operation.
- Aviation Liability: used to protect against property and personal damages resulting from operating the drone. Hull insurance may be included as part of the Aviation policy and that protects the drone in the event of damage.
- Commercial General Liability: used to protect against bodily or personal injuries that may have resulted from negligence. Additionally, this insurance can protect against damages from slander or false advertising.
- Errors and Omissions: used to protect against damages resulting from data that was provided while using the drone. Essentially, if costly business decisions are made from inaccurate drone data, then this insurance can cover financial losses that resulted from those decisions.
Having a compliance program may get you a slight reduction on your policy, but more importantly, without it you may not be eligible for Errors and Omissions (E&O) and Commercial Liability Insurance. A compliance program can make you a more desirable candidate for E&O and Commercial Liability insurance.
Insurance costs depend on a number of factors, including which types of insurance you decide to use, annual revenue of your company, experience, safety and many others. Depending on what insurance you decide on, you could expect to pay between $1,000 to $6,000 annually to insure a single drone for your business. Keep in mind that our numbers may not match what you are able to find, so please do your own research!
Compliance is all about how you are meeting or exceeding the regulatory requirements. A great way to demonstrate your adherence to the rules is to have a document that states how your company intends to comply with the regulations and to have a way to verify that you are meeting the standards you have set in your document. Finally, you should also have a way within your compliance system to follow-up on failures of the system to try to address the root cause of an issue.
If you ever end up having an incident or an accident, then you will be required to produce records surrounding the flight. By developing and implementing an internal company compliance system, you can help your company stay compliant with the regulations. A good compliance system has many components, and we can help you develop a Company Operations Manual, Standard Operating Procedures and a robust auditing system. Contact us for more information about these services.
On the topic of pricing, to develop internal documentation would likely require several months of time if it were tasked to an internal staff person. For a company with limited aviation experience to develop their own compliance documentation, I’d expect they’d spend $20,00 to $30,000 on wages on months of work to develop a product that would be potentially inferior to what a competent drone consulting company could produce.
The cost to purchase your own drone gear could vary a great deal, depending on your requirements. Some factors to consider when you are deciding on a drone are:
- What equipment or sensors do you need on your drone?
- Is your drone capable of flying in the weather conditions where you will be operating it?
Drones can be used for a wide range of tasks. For example, you can detect water damage using thermal sensors, map large areas with high precision using RGB and LiDAR and you can detect the health of farm crops using multi-spectral imaging. The cost of a camera is reflected in its capabilities and the price of the drone will vary largely based on what type of camera is (or can be) mounted to the drone.
Remember to check what weather limitations apply to your drone before you make your purchase. If your drone is limited to operating at 0°C or above, but your intended drone site spends half the year below freezing, this would be an issue for a year round operation. Remember to check the temperature and moisture limitations that apply to your drone!
Finally, pricing for drones that would be useful in various contexts can vary in price from $3000 to well over $30,000. When pricing drones, it would be wise to have some portion of money set aside for fleet renewal. Perhaps something like 33% of the cost of the new equipment set aside per year so that you can have a renewal program to keep your equipment up to date and in good working order. This fund can also help with repairs or replacements for damaged or unusable equipment.
To maintain an internal corporate drone program, you will also need to have drone pilots. Some companies will decide to combine pilot roles with other company duties and others will make those roles separate. A quick search on Workopolis shows a broad range of salaries for drone pilots in Canada. The salaries tend to vary depending on the industry, but out of about 20 advertised jobs, the salaries range from $40,000 to $110,000. Obviously this cost would need to be factored into the equation also.
With any good drone program, there is a fair bit of administrative work to keep things up and running. You will need to keep track of:
- Pilot certificates
- Pilot rest
- Mission planning documentation
- Incidents or accidents
- Safety documentation
If your company has created its own drone program, then the odds are that they have enough flying to justify the expense. This amount of flying will generate a fair amount of paperwork. Managing and tracking this can justify a new administrative position. Based on our numbers, for every 10 drone pilots employed by a company, typically there is one administrative person on payroll. Keep in mind that your operation may vary from this average, but one way or the other you should be prepared to incur some administrative expenses from an internal drone program. Administrative positions in Canada listed on Workopolis tend to range between $40,000 and $75,000.
In the tables below, the admin and pilot costs are calculated on a per drone basis, with the assumption that managing 10 drones would be a full-time administrative position, and so a single drone in an organization would make up 10% of an employees workload and pay.
Recurring Annual Costs
$50 per 2 years
1) Initial compliance documents would be approximately $20,000 to $30,000 regardless of how many drones you have in your fleet and would not increase significantly with additional drones. All other categories would increase within the range of prices for that category on a per drone basis.
2) Recurring annual compliance costs estimated per drone.
Initial vs Recurring Costs
To build an in-house drone program, we estimate that your initial costs will be between $32,600 to $75,100 for your first drone. Each additional drone will have an initial cost of $12,600 to $55,100. The recurring costs per drone would be between $11,025 and $35,525. When you break the prices down in this way, it becomes pretty apparent that for an internal drone program to be financially viable really comes down to how often you will fly your drone and how much the same data would cost if it was gathered from a third party service provider.
Drone Service Providers
As an alternative to using your own equipment and employees, you could hire a drone operator that can do the jobs on your worksite for you. These services will vary in cost based on the capabilities and equipment required for the particular job. Prices could range from a few hundred dollars to thousands. For high end gear that can provide very detailed mapping data, for example, you may pay $2500 or more for a full day of mapping work.
Keep in mind that price is not the only factor. Using a third party service provider may be less expensive in some instances, but you also need to have confidence that they understand your job well enough to deliver the data that you need. Availability of qualified pilots may also be an issue in some areas as this technology continues to be incorporated into various Canadian applications.
If you’re looking for someone to complete a drone job for you, remember that Coastal Drone Co. also operates the Remote Pilot Network. We can connect you with pilots in your area to get your drone flights accomplished.
Conclusion and Solutions
When deciding if an internal drone program is right for your organization, be sure to consider all of the factors that we discussed above. Up until this point, how was this data collected? What were your data collection costs prior to using drones? If the ability to gather this data is new, then what value does it create and what is that worth for your organization? If you aren’t sure if an internal drone program is right for you, then maybe dip your toe in with a third party service provider. This is a less expensive way to see some data, and decide if it creates value for your organization.
Although there are a lot of variables and a wide range of prices that apply to those variables, hopefully this article has shed some light on the sorts of costs you could incur by creating a company drone program. Coastal Drone Co. offers training, compliance solutions and remote pilot services and we’d love to help you if you intend to incorporate drones into your business. Contact us if you would like any help with the services that we offer and we’d be happy to help.
by Ian Wills | Mar 16, 2020 | Blog, General Info, Operations, Podcast, Regulation
Coastal Drone Podcast Episode: Foreign Pilot Process Update
Flying A Drone In Canada if you are not a permanent resident, or Canadian Citizen.
The process to get certified to fly in Canada if you are not a Canadian Citizen or a permanent resident has changed.
There is a bit of a stir online as Transport Canada has recently announced that they have changed the process available for foreign pilots.
If you are a foreign operator, meaning you are not a Canadian Citizen, a permanent resident, or a corporation that is incorporated in Canada, and you want to fly in Canadian airspace you are going to want to listen to this episode.
Kate explains what you need to fly in Canada.
by Ian Wills | Sep 10, 2019 | Blog, Operations, Regulation
Did you know?
Standard Operating Procedure requirements are laid out in the Canadian Aviation Regulations for both Basic and Advanced Category pilots.
We’ve summarized the requirements below so you can double check your procedures to ensure they meet the mandated requirements. Remember – Advanced pilots will have their procedures checked during a flight review so make sure you have them all in there!
For more guidance on SOP including examples, check out our SOP Guide which is included in any of our bundled packages!
Site Survey requirements are laid out in CAR 901.27:
No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system unless, before commencing operations, they determine that the site for take-off, launch, landing or recovery is suitable for the proposed operation by conducting a site survey that takes into account the following factors:
(a) the boundaries of the area of operation;
(b) the type of airspace and the applicable regulatory requirements;
(c) the altitudes and routes to be used on the approach to and departure from the area of operation;
(d) the proximity of manned aircraft operations;
(e) the proximity of aerodromes, airports and heliports;
(f) the location and height of obstacles, including wires, masts, buildings, cell phone towers and wind turbines
(g) the predominant weather and environmental conditions for the area of operation; and
(h) the horizontal distances from persons not involved in the operation.
CAR 901.23 states that these processes are required.
(1) No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system unless the following procedures are established:
(a) normal operating procedures, including pre-flight, take-off, launch, approach, landing and recovery procedures;
CAR 901.28 has some additional details
A pilot of a remotely piloted aircraft shall, before commencing a flight,
(a) ensure that there is a sufficient amount of fuel or energy for safe completion of the flight;
(b) ensure that each crew member, before acting as a crew member, has been instructed
(i) with respect to the duties that the crew member is to perform, and
(ii) on the location and use of any emergency equipment associated with the operation of the remotely piloted aircraft system; and
(c) determine the maximum distance from the pilot the aircraft can travel without endangering aviation safety or the safety of any person.
CAR 901.23 states that emergency procedures are required
(1) No pilot shall operate a remotely piloted aircraft system unless the following procedures are established:
(b) emergency procedures, including with respect to
(i) a control station failure,
(ii) an equipment failure,
(iii) a failure of the remotely piloted aircraft,
(iv) a loss of the command and control link,
(v) a fly-away, and
(vi) flight termination.
by Ian Wills | Jul 5, 2019 | Blog, General Info, Operations
How to Get Your Basic Pilot Certificate
If you are someone who enjoys flying drones, you’ve probably been looking forward to summer all year long! As the good weather approaches, flying conditions get better, the weather gets more reliable, and the opportunity to do cool things with your RPAS is always nearby. You should know that as of June 1, Transport Canada has released new regulations that affect all RPAS pilots including you. If you aren’t familiar with the rules, it can be difficult to understand exactly what kind of certification you need for the flights you want to do. Fortunately, we at Coastal Drone Co. have put together a handy guide to help you learn exactly what you need to get ready to fly this summer!
RPAS certification has been split into two categories depending on the type of flying you plan to do. We will be covering the basic certification here. If you’re looking for information on the advanced certification, it can be found here
If you aren’t flying too near to people or in controlled airspace, the basic certification is probably all you’ll need. A basic certification comes with some restrictions on where you can fly, but for many pilots, it will be all they need to do the flying they want. If you have your basic certification, you can fly anywhere you want as long as you are:
- More than 30m (100 feet) away from any bystanders
- Not in controlled airspace
- Never flying over bystanders
If the flights you plan to do meet these requirements, then the basic certification is the one for you. Follow the steps below to get the basic certification you need:
- Register your RPAS:
The first step you need to do before you fly this summer is to register your drone with Transport Canada. Registering is a quick process that only costs $5 to complete. Once you have registered, you will be given an identification number that you need to put somewhere on your drone. This will allow your drone to be identified in the event of a flyaway or accident. This identification number is required by law, so make sure you get one before you fly. You can register your drone here
- Take RPAS Ground School Basic:
The basic ground school takes about 2-3 hours and will teach you everything you need to know to be a successful and safe drone pilot. It teaches all the topics that you are mandated to know by Transport Canada, so you’ll know you have the knowledge you need to be successful. Our basic ground school also includes an exam prep package. Exam Prep is geared more toward passing the exam than ground school. You’ll get a summary of the new regulations in plain language and some sample questions to prepare with the right answer explained so you learn as you go. While not as in-depth as ground school, exam prep covers some of the nitty gritty items you’ll find on the exam. Our basic ground school can be found here
- Take the Transport Canada Exam
Once ground school is done, all that is left is to take the exam! The exam contains 35 multiple-choice questions and it gives you 90 minutes to complete them. You need at least 65% in order to pass. Many people find the exam challenging, but you are free to retake it after 24 hours and it only costs $10 to take, so failure isn’t the end of the world. You can take the exam here
- Go out and Fly! Congratulations!! You did it! Once your exam is done, you will receive a certificate of completion that will allow you to fly your drone anywhere that qualifies for basic operations! It is important that you keep a copy if it is ready to present any time you fly. Police officers may ask to see your license and can charge you a hefty fine if they find that you don’t have one.
And with that, you are all prepared to fly your drone all summer long! If you find the limitations of basic certification too restrictive, you can always upgrade to the advanced certification to get even more freedom in where you can fly! A guide to getting it can be found here. Have fun and fly safe!
Watch this sample lesson from our Basic Pilot Certification Course
by coastaldrone | Apr 19, 2019 | General Info, Operations, Regulation, Training
3 Things I’ve Learned From Drones
(and the stories behind the lessons)
I’m an instructor on drones and in airplanes so I have lots of opportunities to teach aviation. Every once in a while, though, aviation flips right back around and returns the favour. Here are 3 lessons I’ve learned from drones and the stories behind them.
Lesson 1: There are lots of ways to forget gear.
Here’s the situation. We’re at the office packing up the vehicles to leave for a flight. The flight location is about 3 hours from the office and about 2 hours from civilization (aka a Walmart). Checklist is out and we’re going through the items.
Jack*: “tablets…check, cables…check, micro SD cards… hey Jill, where are the SD cards?”
Jill: “OH GOOD CALL they’re on my desk”
Now at this point, as we later learned, Jill meant this as “they’re on my desk. Now you know where they are so you can go get them” and Jack interpreted it as “Jill says they’re on her desk, so she’ll grab them before we go”.
You can probably see where this is going. Guess who left without SD cards and only realized once they arrived on site. Yep.
*names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty)
Despite having (and using! these are different things…) a checklist, you can still forget things. Our lesson and remedy from this scenario was to assign packing duties to one person only. Usually this is the PIC (pilot in command) unless they’ve delegated otherwise. That way we avoid confusion and by giving one person the responsibility, more ownership is taken over the gear.
*names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty)
Lesson 2: ATTI mode can smell fear.
Do you know when a great time to fly in ATTI** mode is? I can tell you when isn’t! Just like Murphy always promised, I was on a narrow dock with railings on either side about a storey up from the water surrounding us. The wind was blowing and I had about 20% battery left. Our GPS connection kept dropping off and throwing the aircraft into ATTI mode where it would drift around in the wind requiring constant and varying corrections. It all worked out okay. I landed without incident but between this and the flight from lesson 3, my heart still starts jumping whenever the DJI low battery sound come on.
**ATTI mode on DJI gear means no GPS or vision positioning systems assistance. Internal sensors only.
Make your practice sessions some of the hardest flying you do. Fly close to structures and trees and note how your aircraft reacts. Try out all flight modes and make sure you can bring the aircraft back home. Practice reorienting yourself with the aircraft when it’s at a distance. That way, if you encounter these scenarios with the added stress of being on a job site, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it.
Lesson 3: The sun is an obstacle.
Okay, maybe not in the same way as trees or buildings BUT it can be just as limiting. There have been a few flights where I’ve been thankful to have remembered my cheap, non-polarized*** sunglasses but none quite as impactful as the boat flight. As you may have already figured out, we were launching off of the back of a boat. To do this legally in the Vancouver Harbour, we had to be out of the airspace by landing back on the boat by 6:45am; just in time for HeliJet’s first arrival. It was getting close to then so we were getting the last of the shots as the sun crested the mountain range behind us. We had been using the drone’s lights to maintain orientation and line of sight but now, the sun was reflecting off of all the building windows downtown and I lost visual contact. Shortly after this, the aircraft lost GPS, flipped into ATTI mode and my video signal became intermittent. Then the low battery warning kicked in. By the time we regained line of sight and flew back (thanks to some help from the return to home function), I landed on the boat with :48 seconds of power left. It was 6:44. We all lived to fly another day.
*** non-polarized so you can still see screens like the tablets
It’s important to think about the sun’s position when you’re flying. You will be staring at the sky for a while, after all. Aside from the obvious issues of sunburn and dehydration, it’s important to note how it may impact your ability to maintain line of sight, even on overcast, but bright days.
BONUS Lesson 4: Weather happens to drones too.
This didn’t happen to me, but to a former student of mine.
It’s late November in Vancouver. It’s one of those low overcast and misty days with the temperature just above 0 degrees. This experimental builder had a new drone to test out and popped it up to test flight characteristics. As the aircraft was hovering, he noticed the sound of the motors chan
ged. Bringing it back, he thought there must be an issue with how he had it configured. Upon inspection, he noticed ice adhering to the underside of all of his propellers! The slight pressure change that happens as lift is produced caused the temperature to drop just low enough for the humidity to freeze onto the propellers. Remember learning about icing risk in ground school? Well it can actually happen! So it’s good to be aware and to listen as well as watch for changes in aircraft performance.
Do you have any good lessons you’ve learned through your flying? Let us know!
by coastaldrone | Nov 15, 2018 | General Info, Operations, Regulation, Training
NOTICE: check out our new post about the rules that are now in effect!
At the end of October, Transport Canada presented a regulatory update at Unmanned Canada- Unmanned System Canada’s fall conference in Vancouver, BC. While specifics such as release dates for the highly anticipated regulations were not a part of the announcements, we saw some helpful details that paint a picture of what we can expect. From this, we’re able to illustrate the expected paths to compliance under the new framework.
Before continuing, please note that the information below is what we anticipate will become regulation. These regulations are not yet in force.
- 2018 is still TC’s goal for regulation release (Canada Gazette 2 – CG2)
- SFOCs will still be valid following CG2 during the implementation of regulations; a 6-month timeframe
- SFOCs can still be issued for unique operations during the 6-month implementation period
- While it wasn’t said, it was implied that operators will be encouraged, after CG2 drop, to work toward the appropriate permit rather than a standing SFOC.
- There will no longer be a recreational vs. commercial distinction. Operations will be categorized as basic or advanced. A fun flight can be “advanced” and a research project or work for pay can be “basic”.
- These rules apply to all remotely piloted aircraft between 250g and 25kgs
- Unmanned Aircraft will be referred to as Drones or RPAS for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System on TC documents moving forward
BASIC OR ADVANCED
To decide if you pursue a basic authorization or advanced authorization, the main deciding factor is the class of airspace you intend to operate in. If your flights will only ever be in class G uncontrolled airspace, you may only need a basic certification. If you want to be able to operate in classes C-F, you will need an advanced authorization. The table below provides more information on the regulatory categories for basic and advanced operations.
250g – 25kgs, operated within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)
Quick reminder on aerodromes. They are any area of land or water, including a frozen surface that is used, designed, prepared or equipped for the arrival, departure, movement or servicing of aircraft. It includes heliports, airports, bodies of water with floatplanes etc.
The administration of the knowledge exams for basic, advanced and flight reviewer will be through Transport Canada’s online Drone Mangement Portal. This tool will also enable drone registrations.
Flight reviewers must be associated with a training school that provides compliant ground school. The initial round of flight reviewers will be certified to conduct their reviews after passing a flight reviewer exam around the same date as CG2 drop. The next eligible flight reviewers will have to meet the additional requirement of holding an advanced certificate for a period of 6 months before they are able to write the flight reviewer exam.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF YOU…
…ARE A CURRENT STANDING SFOC HOLDER with an SFOC that expires before January 1, 2019
Renew your Standing SFOC as soon as possible. You’ll be able to operate under your standing SFOC until you complete the new requirements to hold your RPAS certificate.
…ARE A CURRENT STANDING SFOC HOLDER with an SFOC expiring in the spring or summer of 2019
You probably won’t need to renew (particularly if the expiry is after, say, June 2019) if you get moving on your RPAS certificate requirements right away.
…DO NOT YET HAVE A STANDING SFOC and need to fly in January
Get 3 applications + standing application in before the end of the year. If not, you may have some downtime while you gain your certification under the new framework.
…DO NOT YET HAVE A STANDING SFOC and don’t mind being “grounded” for a bit
If it’s reasonable for you to get 3 applications + standing application in before the end of the year, do that. If not, you may have some downtime while you gain your certification under the new framework.
We don’t know exactly when the regulations will come into force, but given the timelines and dates TC has set for themselves, this should play out throughout the spring of 2019.
UPDATE | 2018-11-16
I received a few great questions following the publication of this blog post.
1. What happens to current Ground School certificate holders? Do they have to take an additional exam or will they be grandfathered into the new process without an exam?
- There will not be any grandfathering through of knowledge. Everyone from Airline Transport Pilot License holders to first-time Phantom fliers will need to write the knowledge exam that is appropriate for the certificate they’re pursuing (basic or advanced).
2. Will current ground school certificate holders have to take the flight school exam?
- If they’re pursuing an advanced certificate, they’ll need to meet a skill requirement in front of a flight reviewer after they’ve written their advanced knowledge test.
3. We have clients from all over Canada. Will they now have to find a local flight examiner?
- Yes. Anyone who is currently on the list of compliant training organizations has been contacted by TC to put forth candidates to be flight reviewers. Transport Canada is confident this “first batch” of reviewers will provide adequate coverage for all areas of Canada.
4. We have a national standing SFOC (Complex) as do a few of our clients. Does this get replaced with a permit to fly in the future?
- Pilots will now be certified to fly individually, rather than under an organization like the SFOC provided. Individuals will need to pursue the appropriate certificate for their intended operations and there may be additional requirements at a company level to ensure consistency in the operations conducted (operations manuals, safety systems, checklists etc)