YBC Academy : Anyone Can Fly A Drone

But what are they used for these days?

Literally anyone can buy and fly a drone – they range from around £20 for a toy and to over£100,000+ for those used in Industry. All a hobby flyer needs in the UK is an ‘Operational ID’ (a drone license is about £9 for 3 years from the CAA) and the number that the CAA provide you with to be displayed on the side of the drone.

To get started safely however for all ages, I recommend doing a brief course. The recognised one is the A2C of C. It takes about 1 week to study and the exam costs around £60. This will teach you safety, things to avoid causing problems with the drone to others, losing the drone (called a fly away), breaking by-laws, aviation and airspace laws, planning flying to avoid being prosecuted and meteorological affects.

Qualified Pilots, offering Commercial services must hold relevant qualifications (called A 2CofC, GVC or PfCO) and these are required to allow them to get insurances. So when they are carrying out a project you, your business and your team have re-assurances should something go wrong – it rarely does but at least you know you have recourse in the event of injury, damage or other issues.

Aside from being fun to fly as a hobbyist, in business which I am going to focus on here, drones save
– Save Time
– Reduce Health and Safety issues
– Reduce Costs

Fundamentally a drone is a ‘data capture’ tool. Capturing either photo, video, thermal orGPS co-ordinate information (satellite location of the drone, similar to how your phone knows where it is). There are increasing uses for larger drones, to carry and deliver items large and small including ‘Covid testing kits and results in 2020ʼ and ‘Amazon deliveries in the USAʼ.

There are 4 main stages to a drone operation whether the drone flying work required is for a few hours, a day or a few weeks:

1. Agree a brief with the customer: what do they need, how quickly, outputs, accuracy that will be delivered, limitations
2. Pre-planning: Flight safety, equipment to use, location, airspace, notifications (to air traffic controllers, police, local residents and land owners), risk assessments and preparing software to ensure accuracy for surveying work.
3. Flying / Data Capture: on site preparations, ensuring accuracy, controlling the environment of the flight, safety management.
4. Post flight production : preparing the information gathered for the customer, post production (e.g. video editing, photo editing, combining data for surveying and mapping)

Photography / Videography
This is probably the most obvious area and use of drones capturing stills or videos to use for social media, websites, weddings, special events, promotions, film, TV…
And there are thousands of posts and videos all over social media, from across the world with some stunning results!

The difference between flying for a hobby Vs. Professional is the quality of the cameras themselves and importantly the photographer/videographer.

As with traditional photography and video taking on iPhones etc. anyone can do it. However to get the level of results you often see on Countryfile or Blue Planet requires a much higher level of planning, skills and post production expertise. That requires a professional.

360 Virtual Reality and Tours
Also known as ‘walk-throughsʼ these are becoming quite prevalent in use by Estate Agents and give an immersive experience. A way for people to view a property, venue, conference centre, restaurant, new building, offices, hotel, resort…..(the list is endless) without having to visit first. This saves time travelling and for the person/business who has the Tour created for them it allows a showcase to be shared locally or internationally, broadening out their market to new customers.

Viewers can look at these creations either on laptops, phones, tablets and on virtual reality goggles.

I have included it here as drones can take ‘virtual realityʼ photography and videos in some cases, which can be combined with the ‘walk through. This provides a view of the surrounding area relative to the venue or premises. A fully immersive experience.

Here is an example of a 360 virtual reality tour (can be viewed with or without virtual reality goggles)

Land and Quantity Surveying
Often required to speed up and reduce the costs of traditional land-based surveying. And known as LIDAR. A drone can fly and capture highly accurate measurements from say 100m in the sky and cover vast areas, sometimes not accessible by foot or road access. Using satellite or ground surveying points (known as RTK) accuracy can be as much as 2cm vertically and 1.2cm horizontally. Traditional surveying, using laser based ‘ground pointsʼ, can increase this accuracy but there is a trade-off between ‘cost and timeʼ to do so.

Applications vary but include measuring coal or other product heaps (quantity surveying), creating models ready for architects, construction, land and property developers to use in CAD (Computer Animated Design software) to build models. Here is an example of a mine in Russia being drone surveyed using a technique called “Point cloud capture”

Agriculture is a rapidly expanding area, to assess crop yields, spraying effectiveness, blight and geographical issues that may reduce the yield for a farmer.

Building Inspections
Commercial and residential properties obviously need maintenance.

For a residential customer being able to spot say damage to a roof (tiles, flashing, guttering) normally involves someone building a scaffold or using a ‘cherry pickerʼ to inspect the area and advise on what actions are needed (if any). On average that scaffold alone will cost £1000 for a week. A drone pilot can fly a roof in an afternoon, capture detailed pictures and annotate them for around 1/5 of that that price.

The pictures can then be used to seek out a repairer or negate repairs being advised that are not necessary.

In the commercial world, applications include Solar and Wind Farm inspections; building inspections that are hard to reach/dangerous for people, chimneys, oil rigs….the list is almost endless. EDF recently used drones to check the integrity of cooling towers at oneof their power plants, saving huge costs, but most importantly assuring the safety of their maintenance teams.

Pinpointing areas of damage or repair may also require thermal drone cameras as well as drones small enough to fly through ducting, drains, air conditioning systems. Many of which would be impossible for a human or require deconstructing to assess or audit any issues.

Emergency Services
Fire, police, ambulance, search and rescue teams in the UK are all starting to adopt drones into their operations. They have specially trained personnel who qualify as pilots or outsource to reputable drone services companies to support them. Often thermal and infrared are used to pinpoint say the hottest part of a fire to concentrate on, locate a missing or injured person (as their body heat shows up relative to the background temperature) or to surveil criminals.


I say “the future” but this has already begun. In the USA Amazon have passed trials for deliveries of products to people’s homes and in certain States this is being trialed now in the ‘real-world’. It is inevitable that they will seek to do the same in the UK and other countries.

The NHS have been delivering Covid tests and kits to remote areas in the UK and the Post Office carried out their first delivery to a lighthouse in Scotland. Small packages at this stage but as drone technology and lifting weights increase so can the size of the products being delivered.


Trials have already been carried out and in Dubai they are testing for readiness to go fully live with services within 5 years. Whilst the adoption into broader society is a way off yet, the capability to do so is already here.

As with all services, there are a host of suppliers emerging – some specialise, some are generalists. Some projects are relatively simple (taking 2-3 days to complete), larger more complex projects can take months to prepare and carry out post-production.

My advice would be to check experience, expertise and qualifications (as well as insurance). Then shop around, prices vary dramatically.


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