Drones re­shap­ing avi­a­tion in­dus­try

These de­vices are in­creas­ingly used by large cor­po­ra­tions for sur­vey­ing be­cause they are safer and cheaper

CityPress - - Business - JUSTIN BROWN justin.brown@city­press.co.za

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. 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%.

$10.5En $6.8En $6.-En $8.8En $4.-En $1-En $-2.4En

Fore­cast wor­lGwiGe Grone op­portl­ni­ties $45.2En

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