Drones reshaping aviation industry

Johannesburg - Drones are having an impact on the market for services offered by helicopters and aeroplanes, United Drone Holdings CEO Sean Reitz said during an interview.

“A lot of the helicopter work is being taken away by drones. Drones are impacting on a lot of aerial work that would previously not have been done at all or done by helicopters, and possibly aeroplanes,” said Reitz, who is a helicopter pilot.

“There is a proper drone industry that is developing,” he said. “The industry is very young.”

United Drone, which focuses on offering drones and related services to the local corporate sector, was launched in November 2016.

The local regulations for drones were first promulgated in 2015 and require that drone pilots be registered with the SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Reitz estimated that there were about 600 drone pilots being trained in South Africa per year.

There are about 60 000 drones in South Africa, he said.

“United Drone employs 29 people, including three people who have helicopter pilot licences.

“My view is that there are 1 000 drone jobs immediately available – assuming that some of the [regulatory] logjams can be cleared,” Reitz said.

The CAA drone regulations were difficult to comply with, he said.

Three types of drones are being used: fixed-wing drones, which are like mini aeroplanes; multirota, which have four to eight propellers and are similar to a helicopter; and helicopter drones, which take off like a helicopter.

“In South Africa, we haven’t seen a big uptake of helicopter drones. It has either been fixed-wing or multirota drones.”

Worldwide, the biggest users of drones are the military and Hollywood.

The earliest South African corporate adopter of drone technology has been the mining industry.

“Anglo American is the first corporate in South Africa to have its own operating licence to operate a drone service internally. Anglo is rolling out the drone to all its sites.”

Glencore was another local example of a mining company using drones, Reitz said.

The mining sector is United Drone’s biggest local customer.

The biggest selling points for the local corporate sector are that they have safety and cost-saving features, he said.

“The primary reason for using a drone is safety. It’s also cheaper. Drones keep people outside of risky environments.

“Large industrial clients are incredibly focused on safety.”

Drones took people out of risky areas such as reviewing stockpiles and created a whole world of new data that wasn’t there before, Reitz said.

In the mining world, drones can be used to validate inventory and to see how much product has been shipped.

“The opportunity in construction is huge through the access to management information,” Reitz said.

Another big user of drones is agriculture as they can be used to survey a large geographic area.

For instance, farmers can use drones to get information on the state of their plantings or harvests, as well as to review insect infestations.

Another sector where drones are applicable is the security sector, which Reitz foresees becoming one of the biggest users of drones.

In the insurance sector, drones can be used to survey items when the company insures them for the first time, and to survey damage after an event, such as a fire.

In South Africa, there are four drone training schools. United Drone has training schools in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Durban. The other three drone training schools are ProWings Training, Cranfield Aviation Training and UAV Industries.

The world’s biggest drone manufacturer is Chinese company DJI, but Lockheed Martin and Airbus are also involved.

In Pretoria, United Drone designs, assembles and tests drones. The company turned a small profit since its launch last year.

Drones cost between R40 000 and R400 000.

If extra technology is added to a drone, such as a laser scanner, which is used to collect 3-D data, the value of the drone can increase to R3 million.

PwC: Drone market could be worth $127 billion

The worldwide business potential for the drone market was estimated at more than $127 billion (R1.63 trillion), PwC said this week.

The industry with the best prospect for drone applications is infrastructure, with a total addressable market value of about $45.2 billion.

Michal Mazur, head of PwC’s global drone unit, said drones could be used as a tool for collecting data with greater efficiency and with an unprecedented level of quality. The cost of drones varied from $50 000 to $11 million, he said.

The industries where drones could be used included the following, according to PwC: construction, infrastructure, agriculture, insurance, telecommunications, film making, utilities, oil and gas, chemicals, law, banking, mining, security, and transportation.

According to PwC, drones can allow businesses to achieve increased efficiency, better safety, cost reductions, better environmental compliance, augmented project monitoring and improved risk management.

One PwC case study found that the use of drones improved an infrastructure project by surveying construction sites 20 times faster than the ground-based surveying teams. There was a 91% drop in life-threatening accidents on construction sites, savings of 68% on claims settlement litigation related to the projects and limitation of fines for environmental violations by 52%.

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