The life of a commercial drone pilot: interview with James Reader

James Reader sits down with Dara from Flock to share his first-hand experiences since qualifying as a commercial drone pilot two years ago. In this time James has grown his videography company, Front Row Films, from strength to strength, flown over the Houses of Parliament, and is now gearing up to explore new use-cases such as surveying and 3D mapping.

Throughout his journey, James has evolved and adapted his Flock insurance to fit his constantly evolving needs, something which comes part and parcel from working within the rapidly evolving drone industry.

What excites you most about being a commercial drone pilot?

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As a filmmaker what excites me is producing cinematic images, and I think using drones provides an added ‘wow factor’ to the shots you’re able to capture. There’s no feeling like it when you’re on a job and pull off the shot which can take people’s breath away- that buzz really drives me.

I also like the fact that because it’s a rapidly evolving industry you just don’t know what’s next. So far drones have opened up so many doors for me professionally – from working on reality tv shows to Bollywood feature films, and I’m planning on doing some oil rig work soon. The technology is also evolving at such an exponential rate. We’ve now got ultrasonic sensors and advanced collision detection, and it will be really exciting to see what the next wave of drones will bring. I still can’t get over how such a tiny thing as the Mavic 2 can capture such amazing photos!

James Reader of Front Row Films

You’ve touched on some of the many use-cases of drones, some of which can be pretty high-risk. Have you experienced any particularly challenging jobs?

I’ve done some high-level corporate jobs which has involved me flying in urban areas, such as London and Edinburgh. For the London job, I was flying in a restricted zone, next to the Houses of Parliament, and several flight paths. It was an incredibly challenging flight, and I didn’t know at the beginning if it was even possible to do. When I phoned up the CAA and NATS, they were great and helping me to realise as long as you do the proper planning and get the correct paperwork in, a lot of things are possible. So I think having the support of partner organisations is really key in achieving these more difficult flights.

Flock has also been a major part of that equation, and it’s now become part of my workflow to talk to them and make sure I am covered and have everything in order that I need. I think this is quite unique, as generally insurance is something you take out once a year, and forget about until it’s up for renewal. The difference with Flock is that someone is always at the end of the phone to chat to, whether it’s about insurance or regulation – it’s almost like having another team member. This is invaluable as drone work is a bit like an iceberg – flying is the most visible element, but there’s a huge amount of pre-production, particularly if you’re flying in a city, or there are grey areas which do crop up as the industry is still fairly new.

Have these different jobs come with different insurance requirements? If so, how have you found adapting your cover to meet them?

Yes they have. I recently did a job next to a live race circuit, so needed to bump up my Public Liability limit up to £10M. Rather than adjust my coverage for a year, with my Fly Unlimited policy I was able to increase my coverage for the remainder of the month, and then drop back down to my usual level of cover when it renewed a couple of weeks later. My adjustment was under £10, so it’s great to know that that level of flexibility doesn’t come with a big cost. This is particularly important in an industry where the type of work you do is so diverse – so having a flexible insurance policy that can meet those needs is really crucial for me, and that’s why I wouldn’t go anywhere else.

Have you found this same level of flexibility with your insurance as you were getting your business off the ground?

Yes definitely. Initially I insured my flights with Flock’s Pay-as-you-fly policies, but as my business picked up steam, my insurance grew with me as I switched over to a monthly Fly Unlimited policy. Because it’s such a flexible form of cover, the switch didn’t feel like a big additional risk at the time. Rather than committing to paying each month for a year, essentially what you’re doing is taking out insurance for a single month at a time, as you can pause it and switch back to Pay-as-you-fly if work does take a dip. As it turns out, I’m so busy that Fly Unlimited is really working for me. I like that it covers my equipment out of flight too, and I’ve been able to easily adjust my policy as my fleet has grown by a couple of drones. But it’s still nice to know that I have the flexibility to adjust or pause my insurance month-by-month depending on the rhythm of my workload.

James’ shot capturing the historic Edinburgh landscape

What’s next on the horizon for you professionally?

Even though my specialist skill set is as a filmmaker, I’m really interested in other areas which drones unlock. For instance, I’m fascinated by doing 3D mapping of heritage properties, particularly with the RTK Phantom which can do cm accurate surveys. Equally, I’d love to use FLIR heat sensing cameras for search and rescue missions. The options are almost endless!

Try Flock’s Fly Unlimited policy for free

Want to try Flock’s Fly Unlimited monthly policy for yourself? Sign up before Saturday 11th May to get your first month for free. No commitments, cancel anytime. For more information, visit Flock’s website. Offer terms and conditions apply.

About Flock:

Flock is a Government backed insurtech, who have partnered with Allianz, the world’s leading aviation insurer, to provide simpler, smarter drone insurance to commercial pilots.

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Alex Douglas

The author Alex Douglas

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