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Commercial drone operators upbeat about outlook: survey

NZ's commercial drone operators mostly filming, aerial mapping, upbeat about outlook: survey

By Jonathan Underhill

May 24 (BusinessDesk) - Commercial drone operators in New Zealand are mainly occupied with filming, aerial mapping and inspections and count the real estate and construction sectors as their biggest customers, an Airways NZ survey shows

Airways, which controls the national air traffic control system, says 1,460 drone pilots responded to its inaugural survey, of which 882 were recreational and 579 commercial operators. Average turnover for commercial operators pulling in up to $1 million a year was $108,000 and survey participants saw a 38 percent gain in turnover in the next 12 months. About one third planned to take on staff in the next year.

About 19 percent of commercial operators are expecting a significant increase in demand for drone services over the next 12 months while 51 percent, the largest group, see an increase and 27 percent expect demand to stay the same. Of the top five reasons to use commercial drones, photography and filming made up about 78 percent, well ahead of aerial surveying, mapping and/or inspections at 49 percent. Agricultural and farming support made up 15 percent while search and rescue, and support for emergency responses made up a combined 14 percent.

Real estate companies were the largest source of customers, making up almost 40 percent, with construction close behind on about 38 percent. Film and television was third at 29 percent.

Recreational drone pilots were mostly men. About 95 percent of the 882 who responded were males and 48 percent was aged 25-44. Most flew drones either for recreation and pleasure, or for photography and filming.

In March, Airways said drones were straying into controlled airspace around airports at a rate of one a week, including a reported near miss at Auckland International Airport. The incidents have prompted calls for the government to clamp down on 'unregulated' drones.

The Airways survey suggests recreational pilots are more like to be at fault. While 60 percent of total drone pilots surveyed said they strictly comply with civil aviation rules, it was commercial operators who skewed the reading, with 72 percent saying they always comply with the rules compared with 51 percent of recreational users.

"It’s great to see most users are aware of safety rules and regulations and are trying to abide by them. But there is a clear gap in understanding and attitudes towards compliance and a divide between commercial and recreational operators," Trent Fulcher, Airways head of strategy, said in a statement.

Some 64 percent of commercial operators polled said there should be some form of mandatory training before a person can be in charge of a drone compared with 41 percent of recreational users who supported training. About 59 percent of commercial operators always seek appropriate landowner approvals before a flight compared with 30 percent who use them for fun.

“Drone operators are telling us that there should be stricter enforcement of rules and harsher penalties for those who don’t comply, freer access to airspace and simpler process for gaining landowner approval,” Fulcher said. "They are also becoming impatient with restrictions on beyond visual line of sight operations. BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) would be a game changer for the industry, enabling activities like package deliveries and autonomous flying vehicles."


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