Arbor-care has invested in drone technology to assist with its operations. Willem Hattingh, Arbor-care’s Professional Services Manager, has to go through stringent training and clearance processes to achieve his Remote Pilot Licence, including passing a seven day theoretical course and examination and English language proficiency certification, as well as obtaining a radio operator certificate, undertaking a five day practical flight course and examination, and passing a medical examination. Arbor-care had to register the drone plus Willem needed to obtain an operator certificate from CAA (the Civil Aviation Authority). And that’s not all: a radio, fire extinguisher and insurance were also required. Not a simple or speedy process!

The commercial use of drones is becoming increasingly common for various applications, including aerial surveys in the agricultural sector and game surveillance and protection (especially to combat rhino poaching). Drones are quick and manoeuvrable, and can often replace a costly helicopter for aerial photography.

Arbor-care has already made use of a fixed wing drone in Ghana for land-use mapping, reconnaissance of drought damage as well as a detailed survey of fire damage in other areas. Willem says, “One of our applications will be reconnaissance-type work such as determining the extent of any disaster (fire, hail, drought etc) or checking on the quality of work. The second application will be obtaining a detailed aerial survey of the results of any reconnaissance – in a random fly mode – mainly work at a different scale and accuracy. The third application will be a pre-defined flight path to record any attribute of interest in a known area using thermal imaging or normal 3 band photography, with again a multitude of uses e.g. normal land-use mapping. It is a quick and easy way of assessing in-field conditions prior to gathering additional information to assist with planning mechanised operations. We can assess the quality of any activity but mainly planting and weed control as well as the quality of fire break preparation, and in a green field operation the updating of maps to reflect the current land-use status.”

Arbor-care currently uses a Quadcopter (DJI Phantom4) with four rotors, rather than a fixed wing drone, which is more versatile but has certain disadvantages as well as advantages. The main advantage of the multi-rotor drones are the ease of take-off and landing as no landing strip is required plus the craft can hover to better investigate an area. The main downside is the battery life and time in the air, which is limited to about 20 minutes.