Buy or Hire: Hiring a UAV Pilot

Why would I hire a drone company when I can buy one myself? This tends to be a question farmers ask themselves when trying to decide to hire aerial imagery for their operations or invest in a physical drone for their operation.

As a farmer myself, I focus my business on agriculture. I know that farmers have enough rules and regulations to follow and keep track of. I’m also aware that every farmer has more projects and tasks to do than there are hours in a day. I also know that impact to your bottom line is always a factor in investing in a piece of equipment versus hiring the task done. Regulations, licensing, cost, and time are some of the major key factors in hiring your aerial imagery.

The first thing with drone operation is the legality and licensing of drone operation. If you are only planning to fly a drone for fun, and not use it for your farm operation, you can fly it. However, legally, if you fly over a field and make a decision that makes or loses you money (i.e. chemical application, fertilizer application, scouting, tiling, etc.) you are flying it for business and MUST have a Remote Pilot Certificate. This certificate includes learning the National Airspace System, reading aeronautical sectional charts, using aeronautical radio frequencies, reading altitudes, reading aviation meteorological reports and much more. With this, also comes understanding the rules and regulations of flying near an airport, when you can launch a drone due to wind speed, and more. If you really think that purchasing a drone for your operation is the way to go, it is also recommended that you have liability coverage for yourself as an operator. It is also imperative that anyone you hire to fly for you has liability coverage as well in case of an incident. The last thing you want is a drone sent into someone’s building or vehicle and not have coverage.

Cost along with the time factor are also two things to consider. It is pretty easy to fit in the cost of a quadcopter style drone to a farm operation, however the actual sensors you need to use along with the number of batteries you will need to fly your acreage greatly increase the initial cost. Combine that with what your time is worth to actually fly the drone, and it may become cost prohibitive. A quadcopter typically doesn’t have the images you actually need to make decisions for your farm, and will go through anywhere from four to six batteries in a typical sized field, causing an operator to start and stop the same field multiple times. That same field could have been finished in 20 minutes with a fixed wing, rather than the hour and a half it just took with a quadcopter.

A fixed wing drone is much more efficient for flying acreages, but also has a much higher price tag than a quadcopter style drone. However, when looking for accuracy in mapping along with optional image sensors depending on what needs to be captured on-farm, a fixed wing drone in my opinion, is truly the best option for data capture.

At the end of the day it comes down to do you hire a professional to complete a job that they are trained, licensed, and insured for or do you try to do something yourself? As a farmer myself, I know majority of the time for me to do it myself I look at the cost savings. However, I have found more and more that my time is one of my most valuable assets. Here at Hewitt Precision Insights, we don’t just give you an image and say have fun like some drone companies do. We give you processed images back within 3 days of your flight, complete with agronomic review. These images are available to download on your computer or any other mobile device or tablet. Our imagery comes with a targeted crop scouting app, making on-farm scouting easier, and saving time.

When choosing to purchase a drone or hire an outside company to fly your acres, there are many factors to consider from licenses to cost and time. Hewitt Precision Insights can provide assistance in figuring out what your farm operation wants and needs out of imagery, and how to make calculated agronomic decisions based off of that imagery and our boots on the ground approach.

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