Guest Post: What Do FAA Part 107 Numbers Tell Us About How Drones Are Being Used by Surveyors?

What Do FAA Part 107 Numbers Tell Us About How Drones Are Being Used by Surveyors?

Jeremiah Karpowicz, Executive Editor, Commercial UAV News

Aerotas regularly provides thought leadership for Commercial UAV News from the perspective of the land survey industry. In this post, Executive Editor for Commercial UAV News, Jeremiah Karpowicz, offers his perspective about how land surveying stacks up in the drone industry.

Recently, the FAA announced that it had granted 2,000 UAS waivers in two years of Part 107. It’s a big number that comes on the heels of an announcement that more than 100,000 people have obtained a Remote Pilot Certificate. However, these numbers tell us something much more, as they clearly illustrate the different types of operations are being performed with drones, and what sorts of professionals are using them.


Drones are being used in a variety of industries, but their applications in the survey space continue to define where and how the technology can create value. While experts like Colin Snow have calculated that film/photo/video makes up more than 40% of the market, the top use case beyond those applications are in surveying and terrain mapping, and the opportunities there are far more lucrative. Simply put, surveyors can charge a premium that doesn’t make sense in any film/photo/video capacity. 


Additionally, the waivers granted by the FAA indicate a serious commitment to the technology beyond Part 107. Of the over 1,800 unique operators who were granted waivers, almost 60% (1,069) were associated with a service-based company. The report says these companies operate in a range of markets, and surveying ranked right at the top of this list as well.


What does all of that tell us about the impact drones are having for surveyors? First and foremost, it tells us that not only are the opportunities in the survey space real but that they’re also making a bottom line difference for both operators and clients. Talk about drones being able to perform a given task faster, cheaper or safer has been pervasive for years now, but with experts being able to calculate a 90% field time savings when using the technology, it’s clear what kind of an impact the technology is making.


Many have predicted big things for drones in industries that range from agriculture to first response, and the difference UAV technology will eventually make in those spaces is undeniable. However, the efficiencies that are being created right now have proven that the survey space is ahead of other industries/users in terms of adoption. Many surveyors have been able to utilize the technology for the benefit of themselves and their clients, in both small and large settings. Making drone technology credible for surveyors has been a process, but it’s one that has seen surveyors and engineers be able to trust photogrammetry data regardless of where or how it has been captured.


That understanding means something specific for the surveyors who have adopted the technology, and even for those who haven’t. Those who have adopted the technology or at least explored it can see the value for themselves and communicate it to their client. For those who haven’t, that value proposition is either an unknown or in doubt.


However, the value proposition of drones in the survey space should be clear regardless of how someone has or will approach adoption. Countless professionals have positioned the technology as just another tool in the toolbox, meaning that it’s not a piece of technology that is not going to completely change every survey process or project. Drones are not a silver-bullet solution, and the recognition of this fact is part of the reason the survey space as a whole is ahead of the curve when it comes to adoption. 


Still, there are some who don’t feel the benefits of the technology outweigh the logistical and workflow hurdles that can be associated with getting up and running with a UAV, and there can be challenges in these areas. Those issues need to be considered in the long-term though.


When they first came out, many didn’t rush to embrace laptops and cell phones because of similar challenges these tools created around integration into established workflows. Today, not having a computer or phone onsite is practically a non-starter for any surveyor. How long before the day when we can say the same about drones?


These numbers from the FAA prove that day is coming, and it might be here sooner than anyone thinks. Surveyors might be better prepared for it than professionals in other industries, but that just underscores the importance of defining the bottom-line value of the technology today both in terms of client expectations and market ramifications.

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Jeremiah Karpowicz always envisioned a career as a screenwriter, but found the autonomy and freedom he was looking for in the digital space. He has created articles, videos, newsletters, ebooks and plenty more for various communities as a contributor and editor. He has also worked as the Executive Editor for ProVideo Coalition where he was first introduced to UAV technology. You can get in touch with him on Twitter: @jeremiahkarp