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Eyes in the sky

Markets, Tents | December 1, 2016 | By:

Drone photography is the latest tool for tent professionals to show off their stuff.

Stamford Tent & Event Services, Stamford, Conn., installed this Spinnaker Sail Cloth tent in Greenwich, Conn. Photo: Stamford Tent & Event Services.
Stamford Tent & Event Services, Stamford, Conn., installed this Spinnaker Sail Cloth tent in Greenwich, Conn. Photo: Stamford Tent & Event Services.

I flew a drone for the first time at IFAI Tent Expo 2015 and was instantly obsessed. The experience of controlling a copter 400 feet away was amazing! The things I could see and the photos and video I could take convinced me that drones are a perfect marketing tool for the tent rental and event industry. Drones provide a unique perspective to capture photos and video at weddings, galas, tradeshows, concerts, fairs and festivals and other events. They may also aid with site visits and installations. If you’ve considered investing in a drone for your business, read on for advice from both an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) professional and tent industry experts who are taking their businesses to new heights.

Overview: Marketing

Tent rental companies that have invested in drones are primarily using them for marketing purpose.

“We do a lot of large events, making it hard to photograph the event on the ground,” says Steve Wingfield, co-owner of Commonwealth Event Co., Richmond, Va. “Years ago, on a busy weekend I would hire a pilot to fly over several events and take photos,” he says. “It’s a little expensive and often they would photograph the wrong jobs. With a drone we have complete control of what time we photograph the event.”

One thing that Chad Mecus, senior event coordinator at JK Rentals, Kewaskum, Wis., learned many years ago is how much quality pictures make an event coordinator’s life easier. Having a drone in the company’s arsenal makes it even easier to get great photos, he says.

“Our company does quite a few very large installations that make it impossible for pictures taken on the ground to capture the overall scale of the job,” he says. “Having aerial photos of hundreds of thousands of square feet of tenting up at the same time really speaks to our capabilities.”

Stamford Tent & Event Services, Stamford, Conn., uses drone photography on the company’s website and social media channels, and the photos are also used in a sales portfolio that each salesperson has on their company iPad, president Steven Frost says.

Overview: operations

Drones can also be used on the operations side. “We have found that last year’s event photos have come in handy for laying out some of our annual events,” says Andrew Metzger, sales coordinator with Party Line Rentals, Elmsford, N.Y.

Being able to quickly fly a drone over the site of a new installation has proven useful as well. “A lot of companies utilize resources such as Google Earth to review a jobsite, as well as take a screenshot of the property so they can plot one or many tents on the grounds,” Mecus says. “If the project happens to be part of a grand opening ceremony or long term for site coverage for construction in the winter months, Google Earth likely won’t have current pictures of the property. Taking drone photos of a construction site has helped us to better convey the specifics of a tent installation to both our customers and our installers.”

Aerial shots taken at a site visit can be used to show an installation crew exactly where setup will take place or potential obstacles the venue may contain, says David Darby of Rent-E-Quip Inc., Colonial Heights, Va. “While I do not have any hands-on experience with the 3-D imaging software available to drones and usually utilized in the construction industry, I can certainly see the benefit of being able to take a single overhead photo and importing it into a program such as PartyCAD and being able to construct your tents and layouts to scale of the venue.”

Choosing a drone

Party Line Rentals Inc., Elmsford, N.Y., installed adjoining clear-top Navi-trac® tents and a dance floor for a wedding of 150 guests at the client’s home in Brewster, N.Y. Photo: Party Line Rentals.
Party Line Rentals Inc., Elmsford, N.Y., installed adjoining clear-top Navi-trac® tents and a dance floor for a wedding of 150 guests at the client’s home in Brewster, N.Y. Photo: Party Line Rentals.

Purchasing a drone for the first time can seem overwhelming once you start the research process. If you’re spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a drone, invest your time and money carefully: get the proper training, familiarize yourself with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and purchase the right drone and accessories for your company. Mecus spent hours reading through buyers’ reviews and tech blogs and sifting through spec sheets from drone manufacturers.

“Since the market was being flooded with all kinds of drones capable of taking pictures, it took a little more time to eliminate most of the options,” he says. “I’ve always found that reading through things like tech blogs is the easiest way to find out just how many problems something might really have and how user-friendly it is or is not.”

Some drones come with better cameras than others, better handling, more advanced technology, longer flight times and so on. Wingfield purchased a Yuneec Q500 Typhoon Quadcopter after spending an afternoon at a specialty shop doing several test flights of different models. “We purchased this model for the ease of flight and a good camera,” he says.

Darby started with a broad search and narrowed the choices based on what he wanted to accomplish with the drone. “We started by going to YouTube and searching videos along the lines of ‘How to buy your first drone,’” he says. “Videos of that type traditionally lay out the different types of products available and their possible uses. The ones we watched first taught us about hobby drones, racing drones, and then of course the type we settled with, camera-carrying drones. In the end, Darby purchased a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced because it offered a full package at a reasonable price, he says. “It comes with self-stabilization through its GPS connectivity, a 3-axis gimbal for steady footage and of course an HD camera.”

Once you’ve purchased a drone, classes are available in most places to learn to use it, but Metzger says the best way to learn is to practice on your own, giving yourself a lot of space and time. “The hardest part of flying the drone is when it gets turned around,” he says. “Right becomes left and left becomes right and it becomes very easy to make a mistake. I have found that this is what takes the most amount of practice to get the hang of.”

Follow the rules

More important than understanding features such as flight times and megapixels, however, is understanding current regulations. The FAA finalized the first operational rules (“Part 107”) for routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems in June. (Transport Canada has its own set of regulations.)

“The FAA defines ‘commercial use’ as any use of a drone that promotes a business,” says Abby Speicher, CEO and cofounder of DARTdrones of Woburn, Mass. DARTdrones offers drone training, consultation and support for new drone pilots across the United States. “Some people try to say that they are flying recreationally (which has much less strict rules) and giving away their content for free to a business,” she says. “This is definitely a gray area, but we don’t recommend it.”

Under the final FAA rule, anyone flying a drone for commercial purposes must have a remote pilot certificate with a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) rating or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. 

“To obtain this certification, they will need to pass a two-hour, 60-question exam at an FAA testing center,” Speicher says. “The exam will test on knowledge about aviation weather, reading aeronautical maps, understanding how to talk to air traffic control, categorizing airspace and rules in that airspace, and flying within the new regulations of Part 107. DARTdrones offers a UAS Ground School course to help you pass this test in both an online format and in-person format across the country.”

FAA regulations also require pilots to keep an unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight. Operations are allowed during daylight and during twilight if the drone has anti-collision lights. The new regulations also address height and speed restrictions and other operational limits, such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly participating in the UAS operation.

The FAA does not require companies to have insurance on their drones, but DARTdrones highly recommends it, Speicher says. Typical business insurance does not cover drones, so businesses using drones need an additional aviation insurance policy on top of their liability insurance policy. “Drones have a very high probability of crashing, and the issues are usually pilot error,” she says. “A business should be fully insured.” 

While the regulations may seem daunting, tent and event professionals are discovering that drone photography is worth the research and expense. Darby, for one, says there is no better way to photograph a tent than with a drone. “Combine event setups enveloped with beautiful plantation houses or tents backdropped against a lake with angles that you cannot replicate from the ground and you will see what we mean,” he says. “No photo turns heads like an overhead shot, be it a gorgeously lit sailcloth tent at night or a 30-plus tent setup.”

Drone dos and don’ts

• If you’re planning on taking photos or video at a venue, do get permission before flying over.

• Do keep your UAV within sight.

• Do familiarize yourself with airspace requirements.

• Don’t fly near other aircraft, especially near airports.

• Don’t fly over groups of people.

• Don’t fly over stadiums or sporting events.

• Don’t fly near emergency response efforts such as fires.

• Don’t fly under the influence.

Sarah Lapping is director of sales and marketing at Economy Tent International, Miami, Fla.

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