Commercial Drones* adoption accelerated once again in 2019, and it’s a question of time before commercial drone use surpasses Consumer/Prosumer drones.
- Business and Civil Government Drones Total Addressable Market by Industry/Function ($23.2B)
- Top Professional Drones Used By Commercial Operators
- How are professional drones different than consumer drones?
- Our list of Top Professional Drones for Commercial UAV Pilots in 2020:
- Conclusion and Summary
Business and Civil Government Drones Total Addressable Market by Industry/Function ($23.2B)
|Offshore Oil/Gas and Refining||$1,110|
|Customs and Border Protection (US)||$380|
Source: Goldman Sachs Research
Top Professional Drones Used By Commercial Operators
10 drone models represented 63.4% of the drones registered by professionals for commercial drone operations. They were:
- DJI Mavic Pro 12.9%
- DJI Phantom 4 12.9%
- DJI Phantom 4 Pro 9.8%
- DJI Phantom 3 6.5%
- DJI Phantom 3 Pro 5.3%
- Intel Shooting Star 2 4.5%
- DJI Inspire 1 4.3%
- 3DR Solo 3.0%
- DJI Inspire 2 2.4%
- DJI Phantom 3 Advanced 1.8%
The vast majority of the drones being used by professionals for commercial drone operations are drones designed for use by hobbyists and consumers.
The problem is that consumer needs and interests are primarily driving drone technology available in the market. Moreover, consumer Interests don’t overlap very well with those of the professionals flying drones for commercial applications.
How are professional drones different than consumer drones?
Pilots who are in the business of delivering professional drone services have very different needs than consumers for the kinds of drones deployed in commercial applications. Professional drones must be more durable, flexible, precise, reliable, supportable, and have lower lifecycle operating costs.
Here are the 6 areas of differences between professional and consumer drones:
Commercial drones must be far more durable than their consumer counterparts. Professionals fly their drones more hours and in much more hazardous conditions regularly versus the typical consumer videographer. Commercial drones, like other pieces of commercial equipment, must be designed to do the workday in and day out, and they must have much more sturdy construction.
Commercial drone designs prioritize flexibility. Commercial applications vary dramatically requiring a broad variety of Sensors and controllers or communication devices integrated onto the durable commercial drone platforms. Consumer drones, on the other hand, tend to have a fixed design with the full system pre-specified for general photography and videography requirements. We have seen professionals customizing consumer drones to fit their application needs, but those are temporary make-shift solutions that rarely scale well.
Professionals require a level of accuracy well beyond those required by amateurs. To provide survey-grade accuracy and pinpoint location positioning of aerial images, video, or measurements, it requires GPS positioning with millimeter accuracy and equally precise sensor measurements. That is why professional drones flown for commercial applications integrate precision sensors such as LIDAR, Thermal Imaging, Optical Gas Imaging, and so on. Consumer drones allow for some level of camera integration, but the cameras are generally not tightly integrated and don’t capture the exact location of the image or video captured, which makes these drones a poor choice for creating accurate maps or taking precise readings for research purposes.
Commercial drones may be operating over people, or in a hazard zone, and thus they must operate with a much higher level of reliability than their consumer counterparts. Commercial drones to reach this higher level of reliability may require extra collision detection sensors, or parachutes to achieve the levels of safe operation required by the FAA to provide exemptions for that type of operation. Consumer drones have been known to have batteries fail or fall off resulting in catastrophic crashes to the earth. Imagine using one of those when flying over a crowd, or an oil field.
Commercial drone operators invest in complex systems that they hope provide a reasonable lifetime of flights. The entire professional drone stack must have a high level of maintainability, parts have to be monitored and replaced, and systems upgraded as needed over time. Consumer drone users, on the other hand, tend to have a disposable mentality around drones, as they are relatively expensive, and replaced with the next latest low-cost toy.
Reasonable Life Cycle Cost
Professionals know that the cost of the drone is a small part of the operating cost equation. Should you spend less on a regularly replaced disposable drone that, or should you invest in a durable maintainable drone that can last much longer? These are the trade-offs that are understood and routinely made by commercial drone operators. For example, a commercial drone operator may be willing to invest more capital in a fuel cell-powered drone with higher up-front equipment costs, but fly farther and have a more reliable refueling system than the conventional batteries that inevitably fail. Consumers approach the done purchase decision with much fewer variables to consider. The purchasing equation used by consumers drives to find the lowest priced drone that provides the quality of photography and videography desired.
Commercial UAV pilots flying commercial drone operations require professional drones that are very different than the typical drone used by a consumer.
The top professional drones for Commercial UAV pilots are therefore different than the top drones sold to consumers.
We are not talking about the selfie drone or toy drones. We are not including the consumer drone names like DJI Mavic, Parrot Bebop, GoPro Karma, Blade Chroma, or Yuneec Typhoon.
We are not talking about drones that have a built-in camera, merely collects live video or aerial images, communicates with your mobile device, or fpv goggles.
No. In our professional drone market, we are including advanced drones. These professional drones have to be much more durable, flexible, precise, reliable, maintainable, and reasonably cost-effective!
Our list of Top Professional Drones for Commercial UAV Pilots in 2020:
Please note that because commercial drones are focused on specific applications and tuned to specific applications, this is not a top list in the traditional sense – The first listed drone is not better than the second listed drone. This list is a collection of the best drones fit for commercial UAV pilots!
That said, if you are a professional drone service provider, you will find on this list the best professional drones available for your business. These are truly great drones.
DJI Matrice 210 RTK
DJI Matrice 210 RTK
The DJI Matrice 210 RTK was built to endure and engineered for adaptability. DJI explicitly created this Drone for enterprise users. It is engineered to unlock the potential of commercial drones. With an innovative design, the M210 RTK is both rugged and versatile, making it an excellent tool for multiple applications – power line inspection, search and rescue, wind turbine inspection, facilities inspection, firefighting, construction site mapping and more.
High-performance motors paired with 17-inch propellers ensure stable flight in strong winds. The new dual-battery power system automatically heats batteries when flying in sub-zero temperatures, while an enclosed design ensures weather and water resistance so that you can fly in a wide range of environments.
The M210 RTK has a folding body that is easy to carry and to set up, with a specially designed traveling case that can carry all necessary parts you need to finish each mission. With a weather- and water-resistant body, rated at IP43, this platform is ideal for field operations.
Key Specs for the DJI Matrice 210 RTK Drone
|6.2g (include battery and max 1.2kg payload)|
|Maximum Airspeed||13-30m/s (30 – 70mph)|
|Range||500m – 1km with standard radio/video |
the system, but can be integrated with other
|Flight Time on a full charge||15-30 minutes of flight time depending on battery and payload choices|
|Integrated Camera||No – Various choices can be integrated|
DJI Matrice 600 Pro
DJI Matrice 600 PRO
The DJI Matrice 600 Pro is designed to be simple to set up and ready to fly in a matter of minutes. This drone is easier to transport because its airframe is optimized with a quick-release landing gear design and folding frame arms. Under the new upper cover, the positions of GNSS modules and sensors have placed to improve accuracy. A new dampening system for the IMU units increases reliability during flight.
It’s a Modular Design that makes the Matrice 600 Pro easy to set up and ready to use. All Zenmuse cameras and gimbals are natively compatible, and a maximum payload of 13.2 lb allows it to fly the Ronin-MX camera gimbal and a range of cameras, from Micro Four Thirds systems to the RED EPIC.
The DJI Matrice 600 Pro is designed to be more durable and maintainable. A dust-proof propulsion system simplifies maintenance, while actively cooled motors make for reliable operation for extended periods.
Key Specs for the DJI Matrice 600 Pro Drone
|15.5kg (include battery and a max payload of 6kg)|
|Maximum Airspeed||18m/s (40mph)|
|Range||500m – 1km with standard radio/video system, but can be integrated with other |
|Flight Time on a full charge||15-30 minutes of flight time depending on battery and|
|Integrated Camera||No – Various HD Camera choices can be integrated|
Elistair Orion Tethered Drone
The Orion is an advanced tethered drone specifically designed for long-duration observation and surveillance flights.
Because of its focus on long-duration operations, it is rugged, weather-resistant and robust. The Orion drone is fully automated and secured, and no piloting skills are required. It has triple positioning (Beidu, Glonass, GPS) and 360° field of view. Finally, it uses a micro-tether for all communications which makes it extremely secure.
The Orion UAV is a critical asset for security operations, giving access to a continuous and global aerial view and enabling remote control, risk-free and efficient surveillance for both night and day uses. This turnkey tethered drone system delivers persistent tethered flights for national security, public safety, and emergency response.
Compact, lightweight and quick to deploy by a single operator, the Elistair Orion is especially suited for police forces, public safety entities, firefighters and industrial crisis monitoring. With its unjammable high-speed data connection for both communications and video streams, the Orion drone is perfect for security uses.
Key Specs for the Elistair Orion Tethered Drone
|Not applicable because of the tether|
|Maximum Airspeed||Not applicable because of the tether|
|Range||Not applicable because of the tether|
|Flight Time on a full charge||Not applicable because of the tether|
|Integrated Camera||No – Various pro camera choices can be integrated|
Freefly ALTA 8
Freefly ALTA 8
The Freefly ALTA 8 is a multi-rotor drone built for demanding customers who want to carry heavy cinema payloads. You can unpack this drone and be ready to shoot in under five minutes thanks to the quick release top and bottom trays, swan-neck carbon booms, and proprietary carbon propellers.
The Freefly ALTA 8 drone is designed primarily for cinematographers and well known in that industry. However, this is a fabulous drone that is easy to modify for use by other commercial drone operators. It is notable for its ability to fly professional payloads weighing up to 20-pounds confidently. Moreover, this drone is guided by an industry-leading SYNAPSE Flight Controller which allows for precise flight control of the drone. The MōVI gimbal when mounted to the top of the drone allows for cinematic aerial shots from any perspective.
Key Specs for the Freefly ALTA 8 Drone
|18kg (include battery and a max payload |
|Maximum Airspeed||15.5m/s (35mph)|
|Range||Depends on integrated radio/video system|
|Flight Time on a full charge|| 10-30 minutes flight time depending on battery |
|Integrated Camera||No – Various HD/4K Pro camera choices can be integrated|
Intel Falcon 8
GT Aeronautics GT380
GT Aeronautics comes from the DOD world of high-performance drones. Their commercial lines have the same DNA.
The GT380 is a top performer among their commercial ofrerings. With a range of 100 miles and the extended flight time combined with a heavy payload capability, this is a special machine.
Key Specs for the GT Aeronautics GT380 Drone
|29.5kg (include max payload of 11kg)|
|Maximum Airspeed||93m/s (200mph)|
|Flight Time on a full charge||240 minutes of flight time|
A breakthrough prosumer drone packed with advanced AI allowing it to follow sports or other action quite closely from above.
The drone is equipped with 6 (that’s right six), 4K navigation cameras. It uses the cameras to see everything in every direction which is the foundation for its autonomous flight capability.
Key Specs for the Skydio 2 Drone
|0.8kg (include battery)|
|Maximum Airspeed||16m/s (36mph)|
|Range||Approx. 1.5km, nominal radio 3.5km|
|Flight Time on a full charge||23 minutes of flight time|
|Integrated Camera||Sony IMX577 1/2.3” 12.3MP CMOS|
Sensefly eBee X
Sensefly eBee X
This top-of-the-line fixed-wing drone from Sensefly is designed to boost the quality, efficiency, and safety of professional mappers when collecting data. It is incredibly flexible with a selection of cameras to suit every job, the accuracy and coverage to meet every project’s requirements, and can work virtually every type of site.
It is quite efficient & precise for professional commercial use. The unique Endurance Extension unlocks a maximum flight time of 90 min, while it’s High- Precision on Demand helps you achieve absolute accuracy of down to 3 cm (1.2 in), without Ground Control Points. Sensefly has also equipped this drone with some smart technology that allows for take-off and landing in shorter spaces than traditional fixed-wing drones.
Key Specs for the Sensefly eBee X Drone
|1.4kg (include battery and payload)|
|Maximum Airspeed||11-30m/s (25-70mph)|
|Range||Approx. 47km, nominal radio 3km|
|Flight Time on a full charge||90 minutes flight time|
|Integrated Camera||No -but limited to Sensefly options|
Skyfront PerimteSkyfront Perimeter 8
Skyfront Perimeter 8
The perimeter 8 is a long endurance hybrid multirotor UAV.
Skyfront is known for the hybrid products that fly extended ranges with large payloads.
The system can be integrated with a variety of payloads and operate in extreme conditions making it suitable for a broad mission set.
Key Specs for the Skyfront Perimeter 8 Drone
|6.5kg (include payload and fuel)|
|Maximum Airspeed||16m/s (36mph)|
|Range||Up to 170km|
|Flight Time on a full charge||150 minutes of flight time (with 3kg payload)|
Vantage Robotics Snap
Vantage Robotics Snap
This is a limited capability product but quite good at its particular skill.
The Vantage Robotics Snap has been designed with safety features that enable easy approval for flying above people.
The camera included with the Snap is the Sony Exmoor IMX377 and they have packaged it with a fast processor enabling high-quality photography and videography.
Key Specs for the Vantage Robotics Snap Drone
|0.6kg (include battery and camera)|
|Maximum Airspeed||15m/s (33.5mph)|
|Range||Up to 1km with extender|
|Flight Time on a full charge||20 minutes of flight time|
|Integrated Camera||1/2.3″ Sony Exmor IMX 377|
We admit this is a little self-serving. But the Viper Vantage solution really is the ultimate gas leak detection solution for LDAR professionals. It is designed to be simple to set up and ready to start detecting methane or other gas leaks in a matter of minutes.
Viper Drones’ unique solution integrates an amazing commercial UAV flight platform and FLIR G300a OGI camera using a single controller for the pilot. This seamless integration allows the operator to use “Viper
Durability, maintainability and safe operation were prioritized in this design. The Drone includes a dust-proof propulsion system that simplifies maintenance. A
Key Specs for the Viper Vantage
|15.5kg (include battery and OGI Sensor)|
|Maximum Airspeed||18m/s (40mph)|
|Flight Time on a full charge||22 minutes flight time|
|Integrated Camera||FLIR G300a|
Yuneec H920 Plus Tornado
Yuneec H920 Plus Tornado
This is a six-rotor, high quality professional grade UAS, with foldable arms and retractable landing gear.
The camera platform is proprietary and was developed in cooperation with Panasonic. The design has been optimized for capturing full 360 degree views when the landing gear is retracted.
The ground station bundled with this drone is outstanding and with its large seven inches integrated screen displaying real-time footage, you really won’t need an external screen.
Key Specs for the Yuneec H920 Plus Tornado Drone
|5kg (include battery and camera)|
|Maximum Airspeed||13m/s (30mph)|
|Range||Up to 1.6km|
|Flight Time on a full charge||24 minutes of flight time|
Conclusion and Summary
Much has changed in the professional drone selections available for commercial UAV pilots since we wrote our first recommendations in 2017.
Commercial UAV pilots flying commercial drone operations require professional drones that are very different than the typical drone used by a consumer. These professional drones have to be much more durable, flexible, precise, reliable, maintainable, and reasonably cost-effective!
The list of the best professional drones presented here from DJI, Elistair, Freefly, Sensefly, Skydio, and others represents a great cross-section of operating choices. They range from fixed-wing drones to multi-rotor drones and even include some specialty drones which can be extremely valuable for specific operations (e.g. tethered drone).
Whether you are a commercial drone operator performing industrial inspections, agriculture analysis for precision farming, delivering drone-based surveys, capturing cinematographic quality videos, or any number of new innovative services with drones, you can rest assured these recommendations are great starting points for your consideration.
Our recommended Best Professional Drones For Commercial UAV Pilots in 2020
- DJI Matrice 210 RTK
- DJI Matrice 600 PRO
- Elistair Orion Tethered Drone
- Freefly ALTA 8
- GT Aeronautics GT380
- Skydio 2
- Skyfront Perimeter 8
- Sensefly eBee X
- Vantage Robotics Snap
VantageGas Leak Detection Solution
- Yuneec H920 Plus Typhoon
*Drones are also commonly referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS). In our discussion, we deal primarily with drones that require a remote pilot. There are also Autonomous Flight drones which we did not address here.