In part 1 of this series, we looked at some of the key decisions that need to be made if you are thinking about getting your foot in the door of the fast-growing unmanned industry and starting your own business. This next part details some of the expenses you will have to consider, particularly if you have chosen a BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) drone application, and how to optimize these expenses.
Developing your drone platform can be one of your biggest upfront expenses. If you are a relative newcomer to the drone industry, you may wish to pick one initial niche with a low barrier to entry, such as real estate photography. Applications such as these will not require a highly specialized platform or payload and will allow you to minimize your initial equipment cost.
However, if you have your heart set on a more complex application, or think you may want to scale up to BVLOS applications, there are a couple of additional pathways you may want to consider. Choosing a drone with an open, flexible hardware and software ecosystem will allow you to start off simple and easily add more components, such as enhanced connectivity, as the market grows and regulations change. Designing with such expansion in mind will allow you to prepare for the BVLOS future and not get left behind by the rapidly changing market.
Drones performing regular missions will need to be maintained, and maintenance needs can become more complex as you scale up to entire drone fleets. It is worth considering drone platforms with a highly modular design that will allow as much easy in-field maintenance and cleaning as possible, without the need for specialized tools.
As your business grows, you can also partner with a drone maintenance specialist. Several companies offer maintenance plans based on the thorough and exacting standards set by manned aviation, and will help you figure out the most efficient routines and schedules for your particular drone platform.
Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) systems
In the future, as regulations for operating drones outside of the usual VLOS parameters mature and the number of drones in the sky increases, it is likely that you will have to sign up with a UTM operator. These digital services will provide automated monitoring and management of unmanned air traffic, and using one will be another expense that needs to be factored into your business.
Getting your operations certified
Applying for BVLOS certification and waivers currently requires a lot of paperwork, which in turn costs money to file as well as precious man-hours. As regulations become more standardized and the process becomes smoother, costs may go down, but it is likely to always be an expense that has to be considered.
Services are available that can help you with the application process, taking away a lot of the hard work and uncertainty and also minimizing your chances of having to spend additional to re-apply should you get rejected.
Working with drones carries an inherent level of risk, no matter how stringent your safety protocols and hardware are. Insurance is an essential part of running any drone business. Luckily, there are now specialist drone insurance providers that can tailor plans to the exact nature of your business, letting you pay-as-you fly and scale up as your business grows.
Scaling up with minimal growing pains
As you expand from one or two drones to entire fleets, or from simple line-of-sight operations to complex BVLOS missions, there are a number of things to consider that will help you scale up with minimal friction and issues.
Building some level of autonomy into your drone platform is likely to be important as you move from pilot-driven LOS missions to complex BVLOS operations. This will require a number of additions to your platform, including communications, onboard processing, and DAA (detect and avoid) technology, so it is worth repeating the advice from above regarding the modularity of your drone design.
Additional sales and marketing efforts will be key get to getting your name out there and expanding your customer base. It may be worth setting aside a reserve fund so that you can coordinate your outreach with the other elements of your expansion in a timely manner.
Don’t forget that you don’t have to do it alone – experienced industry partners are available in virtually all aspects of the drone business, from design to maintenance to data processing. Seeking out specialists to help you with tricky aspects can help save you a lot of time and manpower.
If you choose to go down the BVLOS route, you will need a robust drone connectivity solution, such as Elsight’s Halo, that can aggregate multiple cellular IP links to provide maximum reliability and failover protection. This, of course, means associated data costs, which need to be accounted for in your pricing of services to customers.
As part of its efforts to make scaling up to BVLOS as seamless as possible for drone manufacturers, Elsight offers a variety of CAAS (connectivity as a service) solutions that provide you with everything you need to get off the ground, including SIM cards and data packs from specific service providers.
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