MILTON — More aerial photography jobs are vanishing due to the rising popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

Mario Werth knows this firsthand, and said he watched as other pilots started receiving fewer requests for aerial shots.

This is why the helicopter pilot opened his Crestview-based drone piloting business, Advanced Aerial Operations LLC, last year.

Werth’s business specializes in photography, videography, inspections and 3D mapping. He works with a Dji Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter that has a stabilized 3-axis 4K ultra high definition video camera.

What can he do with it?

Well, he can take aerial shots with the camera and use software to show the land’s elevation in colored relief. He also can 3D-print a digital object of the same shot. Customers can get a tangible item showing the region’s topography.

SAFETY (AND LICENSING) FIRST

Werth has produced sweeping shots and smooth pans for a car commercial and property sales. Werth said one client requests aerial shots of his car sales lot to take inventory.

For inspections, Werth’s client can wear goggles to monitor a video feed from the drone’s camera and see his flight path. He or she can tell Werth to turn different directions and take pictures or record on the spot.

Drone flying is ideal for recording hard-to-reach places such as power lines, pipelines, roofing, water towers and construction sites, and using a UAV reduces man hours and increases safety, Werth said.

And safety is a top priority.

Werth has the Federal Aviation Administration-required Section 333, a certificate of authorization to fly an unmanned aircraft system at 400 feet; a private pilot license for fixed-wing aircraft; a commercial helicopter license; certification as a helicopter pilot instructor; insurance; and drone registration with the FAA.

“You need to have a license if you’re in national airspace because you need to know air traffic control,” Werth said. He uses a separate radio to first communicate with an airport, if one is close, and monitor air traffic.

Due to busy air traffic, Werth said he only flies in Destin when he’s needed, and he doesn’t like flying over people’s heads.

Another way to stay safe? Werth performs regular maintenance. He said he changes his propellers every 200 flights or 50 hours. “The No. 1 cause of accidents is blades snapping,” he said.

In addition, Werth logs his craft’s maintenance and every flight hour. He also performs pre-flight checks like a manned vehicle pilot would.

‘DOING IT THE RIGHT WAY’

 

In addition to safety, precision is important. Even with Werth’s skill, he said he often uses a visual observer.

With a VO, he said he can concentrate on what the camera photographs while a second set of eyes can let him know if he’s approaching something he can’t see in the camera.

Making use of his flight instruction training, Werth also takes drone hobbyist students. However, he recommends that students start with a simple drone to learn flight basics.

Because of the amount of effort Werth puts in to “doing it the right way,” as his wife, Rebecca, put it, his biggest trouble is competing with everyone else who does not.

“Weekend warriors,” as he calls them, may not be licensed pilots, have insurance, or, if they are trying to teach, may not have flight instruction training.

The choice is simple: “Would you like to be in a helicopter with somebody who has a pilot’s license, or somebody who does not,” he said.

Drones still can’t do everything. Werth said a recent job revolved around a dispute on whether a man planted several trees as he claimed.

The parcel was so big, Werth said, that using a drone would have required three days’ work and employing equipment like all-terrain vehicles.

At the end, flying a helicopter turned out to be the cheaper option.

See www.aaollc.com, www.facebook.com/Advancedaerialop/ or call 470-588-7850 to learn more about Advanced Aerial Operations LLC