Feature articles

30 April 2020

I wish I could fly! Pest control surveys with drones

Business feature | PPC99 May 2020

We asked PPC Live speaker, and drone pilot, Clark Smith-Stanley from Profile Drone Services to give us an insight into what it is to fly drones for commercial survey work. 


Drones, or more accurately UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), have been successfully utilised in hundreds of sectors.

From parcel delivery to emergency services to wireless internet access, commercial UAV flights are creating plenty of business opportunities.

Indeed, several pest management companies are already utilising drones for their survey work.

Buy or hire?

There are a variety of drones available ‘off the shelf’ or built to suit your requirements. The best way to see what drone is suitable is to understand your needs first, and then ascertain the right UAV for the task.

Deciding whether to invest in your own system will be down to your requirements. There is a lot to consider, and it’s very involved.

You will need to have a UAV pilot. This can be someone from your own company or employed specifically for the role.

A UAV pilot will need to go through the training required to be registered with the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) before they can operate an UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) and obtain a PfCO (Permissions for Commercial Operation).

The training will give the pilot an understanding of operating an aircraft in UK airspace safely and responsibly.

It’s incredibly in-depth, and a lot of paperwork is involved in writing their operations manual, which will include:

  • Operating Safety Case (OSC)
  • Safety policy
  • Organisation information
  • System build specification
  • Operating and maintenance procedures
  • Emergency procedures.

The operations manual will need to be continuously updated as different rules and regulations are required to be adhered to, along with any changes with your system and operations.

Once training has been completed, and the CAA has accepted an operations manual, you will be able to operate your system in UK airspace only.

Deciding whether to invest in your own system will be down to your requirements. There is a lot to consider, and it’s very involved.

Clark Smith-Stanley, Profile Drone Services

The initial set up costs will include your system, training, CAA registration fees and insurance. This will be quite a considerable investment and will also require ongoing costs for updates and maintenance to the system, CAA fees and insurance.

With the investment in time and money, you can see why many choose to use a commercial drone flying company, rather than doing the work in-house.

Operating a flying pest controller

Before deployment of a drone, a lot of preparation is required to determine the operations of the drone flights.

Firstly, can you operate without additional airspace clearance?

The UK has a lot of controlled airspaces, usually close to towns and cities. There are also RAF bases around the country, and there are many smaller airfields and aerodromes in rural areas.

Usually, contact with the local ATC (Air Traffic Control) will be enough, but larger airports may require authorisation from NATS (National Air Traffic Service), also an understanding is required of NOTAMS (Notices To Airmen).

All of this may restrict your operating days and times.

Weather is the next requirement. Your UAV will have a limitation on what weather it can operate in.

This is the most frustrating part of operating a drone: although forecasts can give you some understanding of what the weather is likely to be, it can be completely different on the day.

Predicting the weather isn’t an exact science; it’s constantly changing nature has a bearing on the task and can bring the working day to an end sooner than expected.

Once on-site, you’ll need to do a UAV site survey to make sure that the location is suitable to operate in.

Similar to your pest control site survey, location of terrain, people, hazards, restrictions, other air users, permissions and any other due diligence should be documented.

Understanding the task, and any limitations and emergency procedures will need to be accounted for before starting any operation.

Depending on the task and operating safety case, you may require an additional person as a visual observer (VO).

A VO will be necessary to keep visual contact with the drone at all times while the pilot can concentrate on the task, capturing the data and keeping an eye on the teledata from the UAV.

Depending on the OSC, the drone may be able to fly autonomously with pre-determined waypoints, where the drone will fly a coordinated route and obtain the data required.

The drone must always remain in visual line-of-sight (VLOS) unless your OSC is approved for beyond-visual line-of-sight (BVLOS).

Houston, we’ve had a problem

Depending on the system, weather and location, each drone will have an endurance limit which will determine the drone’s time in the air.

This is where planning is essential to maximise the endurance available.

This is where most drone incidents occur, by not fully planning each flight and understanding how the system will operate in the conditions and location you are presented with.

This can prove detrimental and costly to the UAV, as well as being extremely dangerous.

You could be explaining yourself to the authorities, with the potential for severe consequences. Any incident where the drone is ‘out of control’, a ‘near-miss’ is encountered with another aircraft or any person is endangered, a mandatory occurrence report (MOR) will need to be filed.

i-wish-i-could-fly-clark-smith-stanley soc med

Surveying from the sky

Drone surveys are a faster, safer and more cost-efficient way to survey at height.

Sometimes referred to as aerial surveys, UAS (unmanned aerial system) surveys, or UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) surveys, they are an increasingly popular method of surveying from the air.

For roof inspections, tall structures and most inaccessible areas, drones are fast becoming the sensible choice for engineers, construction, maintenance and surveyors because they offer great advantages in safety and speed of access.

In addition to building and structure inspections, drone surveys are now established as a valuable approach by eliminating manual ‘at-height’ working, they greatly reduce risk and improve safety outcomes.

Drones can be deployed rapidly and allow asset managers to interrogate defects using high-definition imaging. Our drones frequently provide fresh data on previously difficult to see areas, helping our customers to make quicker, assured decisions. 

The data can be distributed pretty much instantly to any location for analysis, enabling the correct solution to be put into place without any delay.

Drones will save on the cost of hiring high rise tower lifts and are more affordable, quicker and pose fewer health and safety risks than setting up scaffolding and access platforms.

The quality of data received will depend on the type of drone used. Our drones are classed as heavy-lift octorotor UAVs and carry quality camera equipment to produce high-definition video footage and images from a stable steadicam platform.

Right for me?

No matter what sector you’re in, you’re likely to benefit from using drones to inspect and survey buildings and assets.

For most situations, drone surveys are quicker, more cost-effective and safer than traditional manual surveys.


Should you require any further information on drone applications, you can contact us at Profile Drone Services.

01604 464000

Source: PPC99

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