The newly available whitepaper from PrecisionHawk and Skylogic Research, The Economics of Using Drones for BVLOS Inspections, is a must-read for enterprise and commercial entities considering integrating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights into their operations.
The paper walks the reader through how to determine whether BVLOS is or isn’t economically viable for their company using four main factors. We’ll share exactly what these four factors are shortly, but first we want to highlight another key element of the paper—real-world case studies of companies who are using BVLOS in their operations.
In the paper, multiple case studies document actual applications of BVLOS in oil and gas, utilities, and insurance. In a majority of cases, the companies are able to use BVLOS drone technology to reduce the costs and increase the safety of their operations. Some other companies determine that visual line of sight (VLOS) or extended visual line of sight (EVLOS) provided a better path for their operation.
Download the free whitepaper, The Economics of Using Drones for BVLOS Inspections, here. Read on for highlights, key findings, and an exclusive interview with the authors.
Highlights and Key Findings on The Economics of BVLOS
The whitepaper reveals four driving factors that would motivate companies to explore/adopt BVLOS operations:
1. Safety—Drones flown BVLOS can prevent fatal helicopter crashes and worker accidents that occur due to having to manually climb towers to take readings or conduct visual inspections.
2. Cost—Updating your inspection strategy with BVLOS drone flight can reduce technological and personnel costs. By reducing dependence on $1,500-per-rotor-hour helicopters, personnel, and multi-day inspection deployments, companies can better allocate their resources.
3. Data Quality and Consistency—BVLOS drones can offer more consistent and accurate data collection methods. Manual data collection often results in data inconsistencies. Sometimes, this is due to inconsistent photographs taken from a manned helicopter flying at different speeds or heights. Sometimes, this is due to hand-written inspection notes taken while visually inspecting with binoculars.
4. Time to Value—Drone-based flight, and in particular, BVLOS flight, can collect high-quality data across a wide geographic area much more quickly than traditional means. This means that companies can reduce the time to value in delivering relevant information and results to their customers.
Through the exploration of these four factors, the whitepaper outlines exactly how companies can discern whether or not BVLOS is worth their time and resources.
PrecisionHawk and Skylogic provide real numbers from real companies that have gone through the process of implementing BVLOS drone flight into their operations. Check out these three success stories from enterprise companies that economically benefited from implementing BVLOS drone flight.
- One oil company using drones reduced well pad inspection costs by approximately 66%, from $80-$90 per well pad, to $45-$60 per pad.
- One insurer estimated they could save 20% on costs associated with claims adjustment through the use of BVLOS drone-based data collection.
- One energy company estimated that flying drones BVLOS costs $200-$300 per mile compared to helicopter flights that cost an average of $1,200-$1,600 per mile.
These case studies are especially eye-opening for companies that may be sitting on unrecognized opportunity to improve their operations with BVLOS, EVLOS, or VLOS drone flight. By reading through these case studies, presented in more detail within the whitepaper, companies can gain a greater awareness of the economic benefits of drones.
About the Authors and How They’re Pushing the Industry Forward
The research and production of the paper was headed by PrecisionHawk, a leading provider of drone technology for enterprise; and Skylogic Research, a research, content, and advisory services firm supporting the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry.
Precision Hawk has been a forward-thinking participant in BVLOS initiatives for a while now. In 2015, the FAA announced PrecisionHawk (along with CNN and BNSF) as a partner of the Focus Area Pathfinder Program. The goal of the program was to develop operational concepts that would expand visual line-of-sight operations over people; extended and beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) in rural areas; and BVLOS over right-of-ways.
As a result of the program, PrecisionHawk released its Pathfinder Report in 2018. The report is the result of three years of research conducted in partnership with the FAA, and outlines comprehensive standards for flying drones BVLOS.
In a similar push to advance the industry, Skylogic Research has been responsible for providing comprehensive analysis of trends and technology in the drone industry since 2014. Their most recent 2018 Drone Market Sector Report found a growing demand for businesses to use drone-acquired data in their day-to-day operations.
We sat down with Tyler Collins, Vice President at PrecisionHawk, and Colin Snow, CEO & founder of Skylogic Research to discuss their latest whitepaper, The Economics of Using Drones for BVLOS Inspections. Both offered insightful comments regarding the benefits of BVLOS and advice for companies looking to incorporate BVLOS flights into their operations.
What motivated PrecisionHawk and Skylogic Research to write this whitepaper on the economic benefits of BVLOS?
In their work consulting companies about BVLOS, PrecisionHawk has seen consistently high costs and safety risks associated with flying fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to conduct inspections. Knowing how high a priority is placed on safety within these companies, PrecisionHawk wanted to present them with the information not only to reduce their costs but also to increase on-the-job safety.
“We were ultimately driven to write this so that we could educate electric, utilities, oil and gas companies, and insurance companies on the benefits of BVLOS that what we’ve already seen in the marketplace. We’ve seen the benefits of BVLOS positively impact the companies we’ve worked with already. Now we’re looking to educate the rest of the companies in this space,” said Collins.
To provide an objective view on the benefits of BVLOS, PrecisionHawk brought in Colin Snow of the independent research group, Skylogic Research.
“We were very excited to do this when PrecisionHawk came to us. They wanted an independent bit of research and wanted to make sure that they didn’t fall into what seems to be a common trap in this industry—many companies conducting research in the drone space lead off with the assumption that drones are more efficient in every case,” said Snow.
PrecisonHawk and Skylogic approached this research project with an open mind and presented their findings with transparency. They even admit that BVLOS is not going to be the right answer for every company and every scenario.
“Our goal here was to be objective. We didn’t go in with any kind of conclusion ahead of time, thinking that everybody’s going to say that drones are more efficient,” said Snow.
“You really have to take an approach of one, not starting with the assumption that BVLOS is everything, and two, acknowledging that drones are not everything either. Instead, really address the question, ‘What is the company trying to accomplish?” added Collins.
What first step should a company take to determine whether or not BVLOS is right for them, their operation, and mission?
“It all starts with an analysis of what they are doing presently and what they are achieving with those methods presently. In many cases, this starts with assessing their inspection infrastructure. Are they using boots on the ground? Are they using manned aircraft? Then trying to identify, ‘Can we do that with a drone?’ Ultimately that may lead us to the discovery of, ‘we need to use BVLOS for this particular use case,’ or ‘we can increase the efficiency and cost savings with BVLOS relative to visual line of sight’,” said Collins.
The foundation of an effective drone strategy requires knowing how and when to implement BVLOS, and when it might make sense to stick with traditional tools. Snow pointed out that the assessment of a company’s current infrastructure can lead to different results depending on the company’s objective.
“We think it’s important in some cases that traditional aircraft may be a better solution for certain industries in certain use cases. Or, they may be complementary. Drones can add value to what they’re already doing under traditional methods. That’s how we look at it, and when we talk to companies we ask them about their objectives,” said Snow.
What specific factors of their operation should a company investigate when trying to determine if BVLOS is right for them?
“You want to know how and in what way BVLOS drones are going to be more efficient. So, we explore this through four dimensions. You can see them in the whitepaper—they’re safety, cost, data quality and consistency, and time to value,” said Snow.
Once a company has decided that they want to pursue BVLOS, there’s much more that needs to be done to make it a reality, like getting a BVLOS waiver approved by the FAA. Due to the FAA’s recent notice of proposed rulemaking, many of us are anticipating that the waiver process will change soon or even be removed entirely for certain types of drone operations. What do you think will change about the current waiver process for BVLOS?
“The end goal is that you won’t have to have a waiver to be able to fly beyond visual line of sight. That’s definitely the end goal, and I think we’ll get there,” said Collins.
Given their past work on the Pathfinder Program, PrecisionHawk has a fine-tuned vision of how BVLOS drone operations could play out under revised regulations. This would involve technology to manage the navigability and safety of the airspace and the implementation of technical standards.
“Since we finished the Pathfinder Program in 2018, we’ve been working very closely with the waiver office, educating them and walking them through all of our research on the technologies to be able to potentially see and avoid aircraft in the sky. And then we’re working very closely with standard bodies like ASTM International and so forth to help start writing a lot of these technical standards that ultimately we hope the FAA can then use to drive regulatory changes,” said Collins.
How do you hope the information presented in the whitepaper about BVLOS will affect the future of federal regulations regarding drones?
“We’re really trying to figure out beyond the current waiver process…how do we continue to push the industry forward? We hope that economic studies like this whitepaper will help influence the FAA to show why it’s important to keep pushing forward with BVLOS and not to stagnate,” said Collins.
Download the free whitepaper, The Economics of Using Drones for BVLOS Inspections, and share your thoughts on the findings in this thread on our community forum.