PfCO’s surviving in a competitive drone industry

In an article which I posted in December 2015, entitled ‘The Drone ‘Bubble’ – How to survive in a competitive market’, I sought to outline some of the steps I felt were needed to survive in an increasingly competitive UK drone sector.

Almost two years down the line, the sector has grown as I imagined it might. At that time there were 1200+ PfCO holders (now there are 3500+) and there were 11 NQE’s (now there are 28 Full Category and 5 Restricted Category organisations) and with around 20% of new PfCO Holders only completing 1 year of business before falling out of the sector the level of attrition remains significant. The stakes are high for industry stakeholders. High profile names such as EuroUSC UK Ltd, a UK market pioneer in training and assessment in the last 12 years, became a casualty of this industry consolidation early in 2017 and it is likely other well-known names will follow.

The landscape for PfCO holders is changing daily. Back in 2015, the majority of PfCO holders were the ‘generic’ operators who wanted to focus on the provision of marketing video products and basic inspection tasks and they still comprise a large proportion of the list. But this is diminishing as larger, established names in industry sectors change their appetite for drone technology and seek to develop organic capability rather than rely on outsourcing them to PfCO holders. This last point is important for the drone economy in the UK and will have an impact on the amount of available work for the latter. Many of them had built their business model on the idea of meeting the outsourced drone ‘supply and demand’ and this recent shift means that the pool of available clients shrinks as the numbers of PfCO holders grows.

Additionally, through engagement with a number of NQE accountable managers, it would seem that the number of new entrants to the industry is slowing with the NQE’s holding fewer courses and encountering shrinking numbers of students per course. There may be some seasonal factors at play here but the signs are that the growth curve is shallowing and will inevitably plateau at some stage in the near future. As this happens, it is inevitable that the NQE space will become much more competitive and some of them will start to fall off the map also.

For those PfCO holders who don’t make it, the choices are stark. They could step out of the industry altogether, perhaps going back to their previous professional role or they could choose to remain in the industry as a freelancer and see what opportunities present themselves. This last path is not without its risks. It is logical that they should offer their qualification and experience to those organisations that aim to scale up their operations by taking on qualified remote pilots. However, with many remote pilots becoming available, these prospective employers will be spoilt for choice in this respect and so can afford to be choosy.

For those PfCO holders choosing to stay in the industry, survival is contingent on a number of factors. In my original post I detailed 5 main points for survival in the drone industry and, having decided to add a further area, making a total of six, I intend in the forthcoming series of articles to expand more on those principles.

If you aspire to survival and growth in this industry then you need to start thinking strategically rather than living out a day-to-day existence. Changing your mindset may be critical to enable this change so get ready to start thinking differently.

The first in the series, to be posted next week, is entitled Surviving in the competitive drone industry – plan