Thanks to a recent FAA ruling, there has been an influx of start-up companies offering unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) based services. These new firms provide topographic mapping, aerial photography, 3D models and a number of other services, which have traditionally been the domain of land surveying firms. In response to this market encroachment, many established surveyors are asking one question: How do I stand out in a suddenly crowded sky?

New Kids on the Block

Today, drone technology is on the rise. According to analysts, UAVs could pump more than $82 billion into the U.S. economy and create a minimum of 100,000 jobs over the next decade.

In the same way that GPS changed the industry years ago, drone technology is becoming the latest disruptor for land survey companies who are now competing not only against each other, but with these young startups as well.

There are three main factors that have contributed to this surge in firms providing aerial surveying services:

  • Part 107 has made it much easier for those who were previously drone enthusiasts to make the jump to commercial based UAV services.
  • With companies such as DJI and Parrot offering inexpensive, yet sophisticated drones, it is easier for individuals and businesses to adopt the technology.
  • Simple to use software platforms, such as DroneDeploy, allow individuals that don’t necessarily have a traditional surveying background to create aerial photographs, topographic models, crop maps and even 3D models.

Stand Out in a Crowded UAV Market

To combat these new competitors, survey companies need to emphasize the differences between an aerial photography company that provides basic mapping services and professional surveyors who use UAVs in addition to other data collection methods. It is highly unlikely that a new UAV company will understand the businesses behind the drone photo op. Their business is built around utilizing drone technology. Land surveying companies are in the business of understanding the terrain they’re tasked with surveying – and they use drones to do it.

There are a number of other ways in which land survey companies can separate themselves from the competition:

  • Offer solutions specific to clients’ pain points. Most surveying companies have some area of focus, be it municipal projects, residential projects, or the energy industry. Understanding these industries and their unique pain points can make it easier for established firms to align their services to meet those needs.
  • Leveraging their industry-specific knowledge by “speaking the lingo” of their potential client. Established surveyors are, generally, going to have a better time communicating with potential customers in their target industries.
  • Offer a full-service solution. Aerial data collection is obviously not the only aspect of modern surveying. Most smaller UAV focused firms aren’t able to offer the full suite of services that an established surveyor can provide. By leveraging other services like construction staking, plat creation, easement surveys, etc., established land surveyors can act as an all-in-one solution, saving their clients time and money.

The good news is that established surveying and geospatial professionals have a head start on new drone companies because they already understand their audience. Having a strong, established brand and a clear-cut understanding of the wants, needs and priorities of clients will help survey and engineering companies stay strong and withstand the onslaught of new business competitors.


Over the next few years, established survey companies will continue to experience market encroachment by some of these new firms. Surveyors may need to renew or increase efforts to distinguish themselves in the marketplace and fend off start-up aerial drone photography companies.