Your Co-op's Drone Program: Insource or Outsource (or Both)?

The following is an excerpt from our ‘Managing Assets with a Drone- and Data-Driven Solution’ guide. You can access the full guide here.

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More and more electric cooperatives are adding Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to their arsenal. Rural Electric estimates that at least 400 electric cooperatives own or use drones.

The cost of standing up an in-house UAV program is out of reach for many co-ops. A more attainable option for these co-ops may be to outsource the collection of data, which lets them take advantage of a full drone-based solution without incurring the costs of setting up an internal pilot program. Another option is a hybrid solution, using both in-house and outsourced drone pilots.

persosn in foreground flying drone in background near utility pole


In this approach, PrecisionHawk—or another third party—collects data, managing the drone deployment end-to-end.

The benefits of this approach are that you will: 

  • Save on costs and resources required for drone operations, including staffing, training, equipment investment and management, and regulatory compliance
  • Shield your co-op from the nominal risk of aircraft incidents 
  • Procure services as needed
  • Benefit from state-of-the-art innovations in drone technology
  • Respond to calls for flights in as little as 24 hours
  • Scale to meet gradual increases or spikes in demand

A drawback of this approach is that your inspection operations are segmented from your maintenance operations. For example, when maintainers fly the drones, they can conduct immediate spot maintenance. Also, your costs are entirely operational.


When you insource your drone operations, you do it all. You’ll likely need to engage a third party to assist you in developing and maintaining a program strategy and training staff.

The main benefit of this approach is that you can cross-train existing staff. The staff that deploy ground teams or aerial lifts can opt for a drone when applicable. 

However, this method requires a greater up-front investment of your time, capital, and labor, and exposes your program to aerospace regulatory and safety risks. Not to mention, you’ll need to stay apprised of changes in technology and regulations, and also to apply for a BVLOS waiver if you want to deploy a drone solution at scale.


A hybrid strategy involves establishing a staff of drone operators and augmenting that staff with third-party providers when needed. Typically, on-staff operators are allocated to high-value or complex inspection tasks, while outsourced flight operators are relegated to routine or one-off missions, such as emergency response or pre-operation / commissioning inspections. 

Using this strategy, you get many of the benefits of outsourcing and you can focus your staff on critical missions.

However, the drawback of this plan is that your program will incur many of the same startup costs and labor—such as equipment procurement, regulatory filings, and program development—associated with fully insourcing drone operations. And though manageable, you’ll need to coordinate missions between internal and external resources.

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Choosing the right drone operations strategy for your co-op’s assets can be tough. Our consultants can help you think through the staffing, budgetary, and schedule implications of drone-based data collection—and ultimately deploy a program that meets your needs.

In our guide, Managing Assets with a Drone- and Data-Driven Solution, we’ll demonstrate how PrecisionHawk’s team can help co-ops considering a drone-based solution every step of the way.

Download the Guide