Aircraft vs Satellite vs Drone – what’s changed?

In Issue69 by FIEALeave a Comment

Over the years there have been numerous articles comparing capture with Aircraft vs Satellites vs Drones. So, what’s changed in relation to this comparison? In practical terms not a lot but there are technology advancements which will likely come into play in the not-too-distant future.

This blog isn’t intended to promote one technology over another but rather state the facts.DronesDrones are still the best choice for areas where manned aircraft cannot fly safely, such as very close to buildings, narrow streets or under bridges.

Whilst line of site, range and payload capacity are limiting factors, the technology is advancing quickly. Range is improving and sensors are getting smaller and more powerful. Cost of quality systems remains reasonably high. Technologies like drone in a box that allow drones to fly and charge themselves will expand their use capabilities. Regulations will need to evolve quickly to support these types of operation.


  • Ideal for capturing small areas (up to 2 km2)
  • Resolution down to 2cm or better
  • Drones currently require visual line of site (VLOS) unless authorisation is given for beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) by the aviation authority
  • Drones currently not authorized to operate over urban areas due to privacy concerns, or in rural areas where fire maybe a concern
  • Battery life and in turn range limit the area that can be captured in a single flight
  • Limitations on payloads reduces the size of sensors that drones can carry, this combined with altitude limits reduces the efficiency of capture
  • Can fly below the clouds so possible to capture in wider range of weather conditions and can be time specific
  • Well supported now by processing software automating, much of the mapping work for the untrained operator
  • Cost of entry and operation is still significant for quality systems
  • Limited geographically


Aircraft are still the most cost and time efficient option for large capture areas. Efficiency/capability of sensors continues to advance with 3D cameras becoming more common. Automation and remote operation of sensor equipment will likely reduce the cost of operation further in coming years. As flight regulations evolve the possibility of pilotless flight operations will further change the way aircraft are used for capture.

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Source: Aerial Surveys

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