Do piloted fixed wing aircraft still have their place in aerial mapping and photography with the new era of remotely piloted aircraft? Tony Thompson of Mapability operates piloted fixed wing aircraft out of Ardmore airport in Auckland for aerial photography.
It used to just be a small group of hobbyist enthusiasts that had model aircraft. There are now a wide range of low priced drones being purchased by increasingly larger numbers of the general public. Along with these, are remote piloted drones being used for commercial aerial mapping and photography.
One such drone available in New Zealand is the DJI Inspire 1 T600 available from PBTech for under $10,000.
The regulations for remotely piloted aircraft in New Zealand are a lot freer than elsewhere in the world.
The New Zealand Civil Aviation authority allows remotely piloted aircraft systems to be used for commercial and private applications without specific licensing if they operate according to Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Rules.
It is interesting that remotely piloted aircraft include kites, balloons and remote controlled model aircraft as well as the modern drones that are becoming commonplace.
Part 101 contains 12 points that must be complied with including the following that Thompson considers are key limitations as compared to using piloted aircraft:
1) Not operate an aircraft that is more than 25kg and always ensure that it is safe to operate
Piloted fixed wing aircraft are able to operate in a lot wider range of weather conditions that would otherwise be unsafe for drones to operate in. The Inspire 1 drone is able to work in winds up to only 10 m/s. Wind can be a big limitation to the use of drones. In addition, specific approval and certification must be obtained from the Model Flying New Zealand association for aircraft weighing between 15-25kg.
2) Have consent from anyone you want to fly above
Because piloted aircraft must fly higher than unpiloted craft, specific permission is not required for all property that is flown above.
3) They must fly no higher than 120 meters above ground level
There are a number of situations where a wider angle of view is required than that able to be obtained at 120 meters.
4) Be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes
When taking surveys of large tracts of property including farmland and forestry, it is not possible to easily see a remote piloted aircraft for the whole photography session. A piloted aircraft is able to photograph such areas more efficiently.
In addition, piloted aircraft are able to stay in the air for hours compared to the minutes that unpiloted aircraft are able to stay in the air. The Inspire 1 drone for instance is able to stay in the air for only 18 minutes.
While remote controlled aircraft are opening up a lot more possibilities, Thompson believes piloted fixed wing aircraft will continue to hold their own when used for many aerial mapping requirements.