The Real Cost of Drones in Construction

Aside from the potential return on investment, which is different depending on the type of service the UAV is providing, here’s a cost breakdown just to purchase one UAV.

  • Drone & Controller: $1300 (quadcopter)
  • Enough batteries to work for 5 hours: 6 (@$100/each = $600) These will need to be replaced every 250-300 cycles
  • iPad for camera control: $800
  • Extra props, miscellaneous equipment for minor repairs: $200
  • Time invested to become proficient in piloting and working camera functions: 400 hours

The camera person will need to work closely with the pilot to develop communication skills and perform as a spotter. It’s not just taking off, taking pictures and landing. It’s understanding lighting conditions for superior camera control. Flying with precision into areas without incident, and building trust in your piloting skills.

  • Assuming a $4000/month per employee (x2)
  • 2 people for 2.5 months = $20,000
  • Total: $22,900 (and this is for 1 UAV. It’s best to have a minimum of 2 or 3 for unexpected outcomes)
  • This cost can be offset by the return on investment (ROI), which is different for every user in every industry

If you plan to provide a service to customers, you’ll need a fleet of drones (at least 2, but having 3 is much better), as you’ll crash it and need to be up immediately to finish the job. If you send it out for repairs, it could take anywhere from a week to 3 months depending on who you send it to.

Lost flying time is lost money. The drone makes you money when it’s flying for a purpose. It takes hundreds of flight hours to be proficient in not only flying but to react quickly with confidence when something arises with technology or the elements of weather.

Then you have insurance, usually a 2 million aggregate is acceptable, but check with your insurance agent on specifics because some companies will cover you - but only if you are qualified to fly. (Don’t you just love that small print?) So if you are in an accident and can’t prove you’re FAA qualified, you could not only be out a drone but liable for a lawsuit by flying in federal airspace without proper authorization. 



Would Drones Benefit your Construction Company?

Photo credit: Jessica Lea/DFID

A recent study of two construction companies focused on how company size affected the use of drones. Bough Engineering is a family owned construction company that employs 13 people. PCL Construction is a group of independent general contracting construction companies operating in the US, Canada, and Australia. PCL employs 4,400 people. Contrary to what many may expect, representatives from both companies use drones in much the same way.

How will a drone impact my construction company’s bottom line?

Bill Bennington, a spokesperson for PLC Construction, found the impact of drones hard to measure, “How do you quantify the value of a quality issue that never happened because it was prevented through our use of a drone?”  We are tracking the time and resources spent utilizing the drone to determine grades and contours vs the cost of a traditional survey.”

According to Bough, on the other hand, “You can’t use the drone like you’d use a survey crew for exacting work. They can get you close though, and that can work really well…” Bough is enthusiastic about the drone’s quick turnaround time for surveys.  The drone sends him a cut/fill map the same day as the survey takes place, this allows him to figure out what needs to be done the day after the survey.

What kind of data will I get from using a drone at my construction company?

According to Bough, the data collected by drones is the same as the data collected by survey crews. In fact, the topographic surveys and digital terrain models provided by aerial mapping, a process that has been used since the 50’s, are identical to those collected by drones.

Bennington suggests crews begin thinking of surveys as a two-step process. The survey itself being step one and the consumption of data at the office being step two. Bennington agrees that the data provided by drones is the same as the data provided by other survey methods.

Will I have to train my crew to use drones at my construction company?

Any employee operating the drone must be at least 16 years old and hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be under the supervision of an individual with a remote pilot certificate, and pass applicable TSA vetting. A step-by-step guide to getting your remote pilot airman certificate can be found here.