A Different Kind of Aerial Work
Aerial photography offers CPL holders the chance to build hours and earn money - and operations often involve chartered commercial aircraft and crews
Ironically for a company that was established thirty years ago with the USP that its mobile platforms were ‘cheaper than aerial photography’, commercial property imaging specialist High Level Photography today uses aircraft in forty per cent of its operations and has a full-time staff pilot.
Largely this is due to the developing demands of the business−but perhaps it has a little bit to do with owner Ian Leslie, who bought the business in 2007, being a private pilot who holds an FAA ME-IR. (At the risk of going off on a tangent, Ian values his US instrument qualification over the UK and European equivalent− involving more handling skills and less theory, “the FAA IR is all about safe flying,” he observes.)
High Level is located at Fairoaks aerodrome where it bases its own fixedwing aircraft: Cessna 172P G-BIOB, painted up in smart dark blue and yellow livery; and−just added to the fleet−diesel powered C172M G-BAEY.
There is more than enough work for staff pilot Paul Wells and the company is always looking out for commercial licence holders available to fly its photographers on a freelance basis – High Level received 270 applications last time it advertised, but the requirement to be based no more than an hour away disqualified a large number (one applicant turned out to live in Atlanta, Georgia).
There is not a vast demand for commercial pilots in aerial photography or survey world−only a handful of companies are active in the Uk−but it can be a good way of building hours and earning a bit of money. Not every pilot takes to it−it involves lots of ‘seat of the pants’ flying, making turns at low level. For some this is well out of the comfort zone, being far removed from the kind of flying done during commercial flight training. On the other hand, thanks to the nature of the work−photographers really only wanting to be airborne in CAVOK VMC−NO IR is required.
It’s not just fixed-wing SEP flying: High Level also uses helicopters. It has the use of a Robinson R44 and charters in an AS355 as necessary. For operations over built-up areas and in controlled airspace it employs a Seneca and other chartered multi-engine aircraft flown by ATPL holders.