The COPTRZ team recently had the pleasure of catching up with Chris McGonigle, a previous COPTRZ CAA PfCO student and owner of PurpleBee Productions, a commercial drone services business.
Read on to find out what Chris told us about what life is like as a commercial drone pilot and the success he’s already achieved since starting PurpleBee Productions.
Tell us a bit more about PurpleBee Productions & why you decided to start a commercial drone business?
PurpleBee Productions started off as a private YouTube and Facebook channel in May 2017 and has since evolved into more than I could have ever imagined. I had been flying model aircraft for a number of years, and always had a keen interest in photography but it was actually my partner who suggested purchasing a drone initially. The more I thought about it turning it into a commercial business, the more sense it made combining two of my loves, aviation and photography.
I started out with a small drone to gain confidence and quickly moved on to a DJI Phantom 2. It was at this point that I started making short films in my local area. As I published more videos, queries for work started to come in from local businesses and seeing that there was a market I researched into becoming a commercial drone pilot.
Fast forward a couple of years and I now fly a DJI Inspire 1 Pro for the bulk of my commercial work at PurpleBee Productions. I also use a DJI Mavic Pro for those more enclosed spaces or when the extra power of the X5 camera isn’t required. I have my eyes on a DJI Matrice series next, but I want to build the surveying side of the business a bit more before investing in that.
What benefits are experiencing since starting PurpleBee?
I was self-employed in my early 20’s, but due to a number of different factors, I had to go back into normal employment after 6 years. I had been stuck in a rut after that for a number of years, wondering what might have been, but now having seen the potential that PurpleBee has to grow in the rapidly evolving drone industry, I have a new impetus and drive that I haven’t had since those early days.
To start off with I have been building the business on a part-time basis and the additional income has been very gratefully received. It’s nice to be able to pay the bills, re-invest in new equipment, and still be able to treat ourselves to an extra holiday and weekend away here and there….always armed with one of my UAV’s of course!
What are you enjoying most about owning your own drone business?
Having the freedom to take the jobs I want, when I want has been really enjoyable, and a nice change from my previous work life. The one thing I would say is that every job I go out on, no matter how long it takes either on the flying portion or in post-production, it has never felt like work, just someone getting paid to do what they love. I kind of feel guilty and have to pinch myself sometimes that people pay me to carry out my hobby. It may be a bit cliché, but it really is like that old quote… “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
What clients and industries are you currently working with/in and what are your future plans to grow your drone business?
The eventual aim of the business is to specialise in surveying and photogrammetry, but at the moment I take a variety of jobs. Last year I carried out a wide range of work which included wedding videos, golf course surveys, construction progress shots, real estate photography and promotional work for local businesses. It was so busy that I hardly got a chance to do any flying for myself last year…a great complaint to have!
What made you choose COPTRZ as your CAA NQE?
Being based in Northern Ireland, it was important to me that I could find a course that was delivered locally, but that still offered a high level of expertise.
After a lot of research, I decided to go with COPTRZ and began putting plans in place to launch PurpleBee. The ability to finance the training cost via COPTRZ was a huge benefit to me and basically enabled me to gain my PfCO at least 6 months before I would have been able to do so otherwise. Those extra 6 months were crucial in allowing me to take advantage of the great summer in 2018 and really got the business off to a great start.
How did you find the process of acquiring your PfCO?
I know some people will hate me for this, but I really found it quite easy. I’d been an aviation fanatic for years so I already knew a lot of the background information that I needed.
I did underestimate how much work was involved with the ops manual. I had even booked in my first wedding shoot on the premise that I would have my PfCO by that date. I put unneeded pressure on myself as it would have been a disaster to start off my commercial flying with a cancellation! Thankfully I needn’t have worried, as the review team at COPTRZ quickly reviewed my ops manual and I received my PfCO just in time for the first job of the year.
How did you find the support from the COPTRZ team whilst going through the PfCO?
I really can’t thank the team at COPTRZ enough. They were helpful and patient in equal measures, and nothing was ever any problem for them. Without this help, and without having them at the end of a phone or email, I know the PfCO process would’ve been a lot more arduous. They should take pride in knowing that they are helping people to achieve their dreams.
Would you recommend COPTRZ to a friend if they were looking to start a drone business?
Definitely….from the first contact until the award of my PfCO, COPTRZ provided a first-class service, that never felt like you were dealing with a large nameless corporation, it always felt as if you were important to them.
What has surprised me is the level of support I have received after the course. The continuing information provided through the COPTRZ Pilots Facebook group has been fantastic, especially during these times with the recent government consultation being published. The advice given on this group after the recent changes to the Air Navigation Order as well has really helped as I go now to renew my PfCO for the first time. COPTRZ have given me the tools, and continue to do so, to make my business the success that I know it will become!
Looking to start your commercial drone business?
If you’re in the process of starting your commercial drone business, speak to COPTRZ and our friendly team can point you in the right direction when it comes to training, hardware and software. Contact us or call 0330 111 7177.