How Wavepilot Aerial built a drone photography business in Jax (Courtesy of First Coast Innovation) —
First Coast drone operator Alex Fisher gets to put his previous careers in film and aviation into use daily.
Fisher is founder of Wavepilot Aerial, which does aerial photography and aerial film-making across several industries in the Jacksonville metro. He recently talked to the Business Journal about how he built his business and what he sees happening in the industry. The below Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get started in this business?
My background is I originally worked for MGM Studios for 14 years. I was primarily on the business and marketing side of the film industry. Through that, I got good exposure to a lot of production. At the same time, I was a private pilot. Aviation was my passion. So I left the film business and became a commercial pilot. I started doing everything in aviation I could get my hands on. That included meeting up with colleagues in the film industry on aerial production.
Then along came this new drone technology. We used to use helicopters and airplanes for aerial photography or aerial film-making. That’s very costly. So then drones lowered that cost and all of a sudden we could accomplish the same shot for a fraction of the cost. When drones became readily available, I started looking into it seriously here in Jacksonville.
How has the aerial photography business changed since you’ve been involved?
Prior to 2016, to operate a drone commercially you had to be an official FAA pilot with a license. But then in 2016, the FAA changed that so you didn’t have to be a pilot. So we initially we had some exclusivity in our field and we had great demand. But then it opened up to anybody who could pass an online test to become a commercial drone pilot.
When that first happened, you had everybody and their neighbor becoming operators. I realized that to distinguish myself from the pack, I had to provide exceptional service. I had to identify the segments of the market where the money was. Everybody was chasing residential real estate. I pursued commercial real estate, and looked for longterm contracts.
There’s been a thinning out since then. I’ve been fortunate to develop a client base that can sustain longterm.
How has your business benefitted in the current CRE climate?
The growth that’s been occurring here in Northeast Florida, there’s been a lot of work in that (commercial) segment. Another big area is construction. Construction is exploding in this area. (Construction companies) need progress reports for ongoing projects that can take a year or two to complete.
Drones are being deployed now in various industries. Utility companies use them for power line inspections. Drones can be used for pipeline inspections or train track inspections. It’s being done on a scale that they previously couldn’t do. A lot of companies are even bringing drone departments in-house.
What does a typical day look like for you in this business?
Yesterday, I went out to a job site that’s a freeway construction site. That involved going onto the site and spending about two hours flying three or four different missions. It’s a 60-acre site, so one mission did photographs contouring the area. Another mission flew a grid over the entire site, so we can create a high resolution map. Then another mission captured panoramas of the site. Those will be used on a monthly basis to monitor progress during what may be a two-year project.
Then I also went out to renovation at a condo complex. They’re having their progress documented weekly and show a certain technique that they’re using to do their project.
Then I come back with all of the imagery and photographs and videos and process them into a deliverable for the client. Sometimes that’s a full-blown marketing video, sometimes it’s something more specific that a client needs.
What are your plans for the business for 2022?
I’m intent on building my brand within my ongoing customers, and to identify other opportunities for longterm contracts and relationships.
Drone photo courtesy of Wavepilot Aerial