Drones transform industry

The increasing use of drones across all kinds of industries means that taking the opportunity to learn to fly one could prove a valuable skill for a future career, according to survey manager Gabriel Hare of Buckton Consulting Surveyors, based in Warkworth.

For Buckton, a key benefit of using a drone is the ability to survey a potentially dangerous area without needing to physically access it – for example an operational quarry.

A drone-mounted camera can take hundreds of aerial photos of a site. Specialised image software is then used to create a single image, which can provide accurate measurements to within 5cm.

“We can also generate 3D models of the photo area to create a contour plan with 10 to 20cm height accuracy,” Gabriel says.

So impressed with the benefits of using drones that Gabriel took the trouble to secure “Part 102

Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certification”, which allows him to fly a drone at night, near an aerodrome or above 400 feet.

That meant proving he could successfully avoid hazards such as overhead powerlines, tall trees, radio  frequency interference, high winds and people.

“The ability to fly within 4km of an aerodrome is important for us, as the airfields at Kaipara Flats, Omaha Flats and Wellsford would normally trigger restrictions over properties we may want to survey,” he says.

Being allowed to fly at a higher altitude means Buckton can survey a larger area faster. What used to take more than a day to survey can now be flown in a couple of hours.

Currently, the firm does not fly at night. However, Gabriel anticipates laser imaging technology, which can be used at night, will soon be more affordable. This would make night flying a useful option. It would mean sites could be surveyed when they were empty of people or when weather conditions were favourable.   

Gabriel says learning to fly was challenging at first because he had never even flown a model aeroplane before, but plenty of practice seemed to do the trick. He completed a one-day course learning all the rules and regulations of the Civil Aviation Authority and sat a practical flight test. He undergoes an annual re-test to ensure his skills are up to scratch.

Gabriel says even those flying drones as a hobby need to make themselves aware of the rules. That includes keeping the drone within sight at all times, obtaining permission before flying over people or private land and not flying in adverse weather beyond the capabilities of the drone.