As I sit here, I already decided for this blog post and others I would violate the use of first person use in a professional blog. The main reason is the reason for the blog is why Righteous Flight was started. The main reason is money. Now while hard to believe it is not the money Righteous Flight makes but what using our service makes our clients. The second reason is environmental impact of our clients operations. The final and most important reason is Safety. The three come together to form the principles behind why the US Congress, FAA, and the White House eventually wrote 14 CFR part 107. I became a person in favor of the UAS rules in development and have followed them for nearly three years as a fan would their favorite actor or music band. This Blog we talk about our services what is involved and some of the projects we do. Either like this one as a Tradition text blog or as a Video blog.
A little about Unmanned aircraft and myself, when I was stationed in Korea like most Soldiers There was still some down time and I took up what was a relatively expensive but fun hobby flying modal aircraft. I learned three things quickly. First, I learned it is really fun and challenging to fly unmanned aircraft. The second thing I learned was it was, and still is easy to crash un manned aircraft regardless of the technology aboard they can still crash easily. This taught me, the third hard lesson they are expensive to maintain. So I have flown since Korea about 10 years or so off and on and logged hundreds of hours on Unmanned Aircraft before the FAA rules and events leading to them. I have followed the tech for Unmanned aircraft for over 15 years. So I know the “X’s” surrounding the use of unmanned aircraft. This Blog let us look at the important “X” components for a Video production or a farm.
Let us start with the most important, the Safety X factors, as they will lead to the other X factors we will look at that Professional Drone operators look at and their clients look at. All Pilots by the time we pass the certification for the type of flights have two things in common: We love what we do and we only think about what it takes to do the flight task safely. That second one varies greatly but has a simple Visual. A Safe flight is what every one sees as this perfect ideal of an air craft flying. The Air craft takes off, the pilot flies it the way it is intended to fly and nothing goes wrong, and then the aircraft lands. You know the FAA and/or the Drone operation they work for or with has gotten a hold of your drone pilot if you ask one question. “So what is your goal today?” and His response is a variation of this,” Get this drone in the Air and safely while following the plan get it safely back on the ground.” That is it get the drone in the air and safely get it back on the ground when and as planned. That means if Conditions change and things become unsafe. We try to land that drone, preferably where we started the flight or at a designated location. That does not matter if we are using an aerial application drone for a farmer or a cinematography rigged drone for (insert big movie director’s name). So all we want is safe take off and safe landing if we are professional pilots even if we use a drone. Anything in between those two events is either Heaven or Hell for us depending on what happens in relation to the plan. It is heaven if the flight comes off perfectly, which I know never happens, It is hell if the aircraft has to terminate flight or the flight ends before it gets to the landing zone, this can easily happen.
Then you have for safety the flight environment. A farmer has the lowest cost per flight for Righteous Flight to do and the lowest change in environmental impact. We only lower Agricultural activities by 75% of using traditional forms of those services. However, personnel safety, safety to human life and the product in the field, a UAS service raises safety nearly 98% to 99.5%. An Airplane or tractor can crash and leak fuel into the environment and cost the life of a person. If a UAS crashes the worst, are battery and cargo leaks and those are acceptable to the EPA as the amount is minimum. In a farming operation the chemicals used, even environmentally certified environmentally safe or natural, and OSHA certified as safe to use could cause serious injury to humans If to close to the chemicals for to long. In a drone operation as it is done with low or no winds that factor is almost completely eliminated. The flight it self is also over ideal FAA terrain few trees and obstacles and open skies. That is why when you look at Righteous Flight’s prices the cost per flight is actually very low per flight. They only require ten to twenty training flights to prepare for doing these flights.
Our Video production flights are over people. While our environmental and cost is lower than industry normal, our risk to humans can become unpredictably high without additional training and planning. A safe flight in this case is no one gets hurt in a controlled flight environment where not every thing happens exactly according to plan. So we have to plan the flight and what happens around it down to the foot with a margin of error of 1/16 of an inch. They use 50 to 100 training flights. The atmospheric conditions have, in some cases, smaller tolerances. All of them involve flight over or around people and those cost to a pilot are immeasurable. That makes them extremely complex in comparison to the Farming operation.
So let us look at Environmental X factor impacts. These are what a drone operation does in comparison to traditional equipment. Now we do a more detailed analysis for our clients as a part of our free initial meetings. We do not charge for that analysis it is apart of the process we go through to determine if running our drone service is beneficial to the client and we let them make the call. One issue is Pesticide drift, which is when the pesticides coming from a traditional application methods drift away from the intended area as the operation occurs. Add to that most of the American methods mean your doing a large section of a field for x problem with y liquid solution and that is for a small section of only a few acres. You add waste and over application leading to leaching into the environment. Farmers are highly aware of their environmental impact. This data lead to some of the initial Unmanned Craft for professional use. Where Unmanned Aircraft is and was concerned in studies still being done and that have been done they have provided a significant drop when these “drones” where involved and compared to Airplanes and helicopters by over 50% mainly due to them flying nearly 50% closer to the crops.
Ironically when it comes to Unmanned Aircraft agriculture use, It is not the focus. When I search for Agriculture Drones, I think my last search gives me 5 or 10 manufactures and the most number of Drone variants was 4. Where a large portion of Airfields say Agricultural services or Forestry services. Now when I look for a drone for either Scouting fields or for our Aerial Cinematography services, if I used an analogy for searching for the two types of drones we use at Righteous Flight, our farming services we are looking at a small heard of top of the line Race Stallions to find the best stud or studs and when we go to pair it with a good Agricultural Scouting Drone that works well with film and video productions we have now been given a heard of mostly nags and maybe one or two prime breeding mares all of them having paper showing they where triple crown winners. To cut our operational cost, as use for film and video can be limited, we try to use our drones for video for our Agricultural services mainly as most Video based drones can be paired and used for the scouting. We get into that in the money saving section. The Irony here is farms when done properly help the environment across the board. Where most film activities, aerial currently the worst up until the new rules, out paces most industries and due to the highly condensed length of time and constant movement of a film with the amount of people used, even out paces the coal industry in negative impact on an environment. They are also one of the industries in greatest economic decline and size. However, videography and photography are also the most common hobbies that people and businesses will spend the most money on them. So we end up with a larger demand.
However, that report’s information ways heavy on those who do film for a living. A film crew coming in with traditional equipment wanting to do a video production using cranes, Jibs, tracks, etc. have to clear over 200 square feet of space around the equipment or clear space for an aircraft to get the video from a safe altitude. For the Environment to recover completely even with remediation efforts being done takes months or years. This is why while most list of the most beautiful places in the world strongest showings come out of the United States and when you look at breathtaking landscape scenes from Films and movies many of those classic American films location list looks like a tourism guide of the US National Parks, films are more and more often shot outside of the united states in-spite of the pristine condition of our rural areas and parks. The cost to lower the impact of a film production through the inevitable remediation can be thousands of dollars. Remediation on a drone used in these areas or similar with the new rules could be as low as hundreds of dollars.
The previous two sections, FAA rules and Waivers for most of our operations, and then training and planning based on those rules, waivers. Using the technologies involved in the operation of drones. Righteous Flight then begins planning our client’s flights and that is where the client begins to see some cost savings.
Farmers see the greatest increase. To scout one of our standard grid sizes of 20 acres in about a day, thoroughly with crops in the field, would take five farm hands a standard 8-hour day at $11.00/hour to scout our standard grid of 20 acres. So if they had a hobby farm of just 20 acres or less it would cost $88 per person, just to scout the field. Spray the grid add $14.00 an hour the next day at 4 hours coming to $56 for that 20 acre filed. This is based on rough calculations from trade publications and salary for general labor not including equipment cost. So in some places it is high, this average is $496 total. This is our working number for our client, as it averages in scouting $440 or $22/acre. The cost for us to just scout the field to the farmer is $16/acre if it is just our standard 20-acre grid. When we become fully set up it will be $16/acre plus materials to scout and spray the field. Yet Blogosphere tells farmers the cost is $2 to the highest I have seen $12 an acre. Unless all they are counting, is general labor savings, and cost of the drones against the return on investment no other expenses these numbers are way to low at their highest cost because they are saying one drone and the farmer as the operator. Let us look at your cost if a farmer does the scouting and spraying themselves like these bloggers say. First an AG drone that can do both application and scouting the drone will cost just north of $13,000. Your labor is $33 an hour, the national median hourly wage of a farmer, you, Now the faa test, e is every two years waivers and additional research is going to be around 40 hours/ if you don’t use a lawyer and do those every 4 years. So the drone plus your labor over the longest you can keep depreciation manageable on the drone is $14,200. Having priced insurance let us add an extra $1000 a year so the drone now cost you $4,550/year. Divide by 52 weeks, assuming you only fly the drone once a week, $87/week. So we need to fly your drone every day to cut that down so divide by a standard 5 day work week. $17.50/ day Less maintenance that is your associated cost for just the drone/day over a four year life span. Annual probable maintenance, replace propellers and at least one major replacement or repair $3,000/ year minimum. We say your lucky and hit that amount divide that cost is now $17.50+$11.54= $29.04. Well a 20 acre grid that is $1.46/acre. Wow, I just proved the experts right because I can do basic math. Remember what I said they where not accounting for full minimum cost. We have to add to the flight cost, and we will not include the cost of doing the maintenance, 2 Hour/ Flight= $366, FAA paper work/ flight 1 hours=$33 for the scout we get $29.04 +$99/hour= $128.04 for 1 flight. Now Righteous Flight Eats one hour of reviewing the flight information we send to you and your supplier and review. You are doing it yourself so $33 to review your report lets say your supplier is 30 minutes from your operation so add an hour $33. You need an extra 60 minutes to get the product for application and have it loaded $33. If the drone gives you just one type of application you have to buy spray and scout cost you $355.08 or so $17.76. oh add 1 hour for reconfiguration and the FAA preflight procedures so $19.41. But , what if you have more than 20 acres? Drone cost and planning cost go down per acre but labor cost goes up. The drone we use for application wich sets the grid size can safely cover 20 acres/ flight. Because of the additional man hours its cost no more or less until you are look at 12 hours of flight time. 33 x12=$6/acre but we do that at 5.5$/acre. Oh and your fuel cost per acre becomes the price of a gallon of fuel for your ATV or UTV/acre so we still save a $1/acre off you doing the operation yourself. And the drone saves a minimum of $6 per acre.
For a Movie or television crew the calculations become more complex. Mainly as to the process, the rental rate is equal to a large crane that could do the job. So we look at cost of remediation of our hardest flight. Flights within a wooded habitat or environment are some of the most common shoots with the lowest potential remediation cost. Those could cost around $15,000 or more.
The cost for a shoot in a field using a jib does not require remediation. But for every acre effected the compensation to the farmer depending on the crop can be between $20,000 and $30,000 per acres the least expensive a Jib will cost a significant enough portion of the crop for the yield on the acre to not be near the potential yield for the year. Property damages of jibs and cranes can get even more expensive in most city settings or near buildings as damage from a rouge crane or jib can exceed $1,000 on ground level. More often, they can exceed the cost of automobiles and human life. A production in Georgia cost the life of a 27 year old lady dolly operator when hit by a train. So, $100,000 for a human life, court cost, damages to the train, etc. One traditional piece of equipment in the wrong place at the wrong time ended the production due to the lack of funding not including damages to the train, railroad equipment and the dolly. Now that is a max cost in worst case scenario conditions. The same would have been the fine and the roughly $60,000 to replace the drone and the fines would have been mostly on the drone operator. Here is why due to how a drone production in or around people is handled.
When planning a drone shoot it takes 90 days or three months on average. A shoot like this one Righteous flight would ask for a half a year lead up time to give us enough time for the special waiver and coordinate with the train companies and NTSB. Righteous Flight looking at the intended shot follows this in order to do what we would do for any flight lowering the load to safest possible limits. For a normal flight that would be lowering any thing on the craft for a film or Television shoot, it is actually lowering the risk of damage to property, the environment, or people when it comes to Drones. That means just like our farms we do an initial scout on the selected scene and determine the bare minimum amount of alterations to be done, usually only clearing a path of about 3 feet wide. We look at the script and determine the least amount of people to get the directors desired look using specially made mannequins to protect any talent in the scene when possible. Back in our planning after that meeting we lay out geo fencing and begin looking into getting emergency services and local safety officers to help close off the set if it is needed. Then we begin rehearsing the flight as much as possible and get any additional waivers needed. When its done we usually limit the director to 3 cameras, 1 sound person, the director, and an assistant. What we are attempting to do is preserve the original look the director or cinematographer saw. By taking the messures to lower the footprint down to a practicle and safe size we also make the Flight it self as simple as it needs to be so the Remote pilot can focus on flying and getting the shot.
Any other type of Cinema graphic or video graphic shoot even in urban areas we do the same thing. We make the scene safer and more simple in the area of the actual flight and set up safe areas and zones for people. When we do that the actual cost of the production for that day goes down several hundred to a few thousand dollars. While the waivers and certifications we are in the process says we make the last call we also make sure every key player in the production is involved in the process of how we get to that safe point and how we rehearse and do that shoot. If it is a live event then our process is modified where we work with safety officials to insure anyone in the area the drone will fly is always near a safety zone. Ultimately a person producing an event had a look for the video from what they saw with their naked eye. We go through the process to Save the look by using the drone. So the director or someone else could use that same location in its natural beauty in the future, be it for camping, playing, hunting, or even shooting videos or photos.
MD Bucey CEO and Flight director Righteous Flight
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