Starting a UAV Business (in the UK) With Birds Eye View Productions
BY Alan Perlman15 February 2016
Meet Matt Williams from Birds Eye View Productions, a UK-based aerial services company that provides aerial photography/videography and 360-degree video services.
I reached out to Matt to answer a few questions for the UAV Coach community, particularly around how he and his partner Jonathan got started, what the regulatory scene looks like in the UK, and what kind of clients his team works with.
I hope the below interview helps you get a better sense of what starting and running an aerial services company looks like.
Take it away, Matt!
How did Birds Eye View Productions get started?
I’ve always loved photography, and I’m an extreme sport enthusiast. While kite surfing, I mounted my GoPro camera up in the kite (about 30 meters above the ground) and I was taking photos every few seconds with a GoPro, and there were just some really amazing shots, and I just thought I would love to, you know, find a way of getting a GoPro camera into the sky.
So about two years ago, I stumbled across the DJI Phantom Vision 2. I could attach my GoPro to its gimbal, and that’s how my interest came about.
A good friend of mine, Jonathan, he’s my business partner, and he’s been making films and documentaries for 10+ years. The two of us decided to set up Birds Eye View Productions, Jonathon with his creativity and someone who has worked behind the camera for many, many years, and myself with the business acumen and you know, basic multirotor skills.
One big challenge that comes up a lot in our community is the regulatory landscape and how to navigate that. In this case, since you guys are in the UK, we’re looking at the Civil Aviation Authority. Can you talk a little bit about that process?
There was a company I found called EuroUSC based here in the U.K. I took one of their courses at Heathrow Airport. It was a two-day theory course with an examination at the end. And then after that, I put together an operations manual with safety procedures and specifications. I had to make sure each of our aircraft are covered in the manual.
Then I submitted the operations manual to EuroUSC, and once reviewed had to undertake and pass a basic flight examination moderated by EuroUSC. On passing, they helped me package the completed operations manual and get it ready to send to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for final review.
All the paperwork was sent into the CAA, and we were granted the Permission for Aerial Work (PFAW), which is good for 12 months.
After 12 months, you have to go through that process again?
Yes, but not the examinations; only to submit your flight and battery charging logs as well as your maintenance log for each aircraft.
And that’s what you’re submitting every 12 months. A log for each individual sUAS that shows the number of hours, which batteries you’ve used, how many times you’ve used and charged them, etc.
So it’s really just to show that you’re being responsible and logging and monitoring your equipment and flight missions. The CAA has a brief look at all of that, and as long as they’re happy, they will grant you a PFAW for another 12 months.
When you guys first launched, was there one particular niche that you were focused in? Have you since found traction in a certain area?
We saw an initial interest in property and construction, and then later worked with architects and hotel companies. We also started doing a few weddings.
Over the last 12 months, some other clients include schools/universities. We showcase a lot of our client work on our website.
Later this year, we’ll be combining our normal 2D aerial filming with a 360-degree video rig in a car racing sequence as well as attaching the 360-degree video rig to our drone.
Like with any business, it takes time and you’ve got to get your name out there.
Initially, we didn’t have many clients. We were pretty much going out two, three times a week and just filming from our own back, and just creating really good content.
One of the first things prospects as for is:,
Sounds great, but have you done anything like this before?
We felt that real video examples and our focus on content creation helped our prospects feel comfortable. They could see the quality of our work ahead of time.
Can you talk a little about pricing?
Every project we take on is bespoke.
We very much see ourselves as marketing consultants who use the lovely genre of video from the air or from the ground. So we’ll first meet with our client, preferably in-person but sometimes over the phone.
And that’s where we find out exactly what they want, and more importantly how and where , and by who the end video will be viewed.
Then we can scope out how many days of filming and editing will be required and set a price from there.
What equipment do you use?
We started off with the DJI Phantom 2 + GoPro and still use it quite regularly. You always want to think first about what camera you want to put in the sky. And then you know what sUAS you’re going to use.
We also use the DJI s900 + Panasonic GH4.
We’ve also got the DJI Inspire1, which is kind of a hybrid between the two. Slightly smaller than the s900 but very versatile and a fantastic trail.
We’ve also got two 360-degree video rig that holds either 6 or 7 cameras, and 12 different GoPro cameras, which we can mount to our drones.
What’s next for you guys?
Definitely 360-degree video. That’s something we’d like to do more of. Also, we’d like more referral work.
Last year, we went to this show up in Birmingham. The participants were land owners, farm owners, country estates, hotels, you know, all these companies that are looking to expand into different businesses as well to obviously generate money off their land.
And you know an aerial perspective naturally compliments showing off their products or services, so we’d like to step in and continue to offer high-value, reputable work.
We’d ultimately like to be one of the top 10 aerial service companies in the UK.