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Difference Between UAV and UAS

These two terms are often used interchangeably when referring to drones and aerial surveying, however there is a clear distinction between the two.


UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is the actual aircraft that flies around to collect the required data and imagery.


UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) is the entire package needed to operate the system, which includes the UAV itself, the ground control system, camera, GPS, all the software, skills needed to operate the system and tools required for maintenance.

These systems can be used in a variety of applications such as surveying, film making and by the military for gathering intelligence.

There are two main types of UAVs that are suitable for survey work

  • Unmanned fixed wing aircraft suitable for aerial mapping and topographical modelling
  • Vertical take-off and landing systems which are propeller based aircraft suitable for hard to reach places and detailed inspection work

How Surveyors Use Unmanned Aerial Systems

A UAS can be used to:

  • Obtain access to areas which are not easily surveyed or safe for surveyors to be at, such as very remote or hazardous pipelines and mines
  • Obtain access to inaccessible infrastructure such as the exterior of towers and tall buildings
  • Survey very large areas and produce detailed high resolution maps with GPS measurements
  • Provide aerial video and imagery as well as multispectral data
  • After photogrammetric processing, produce high resolution ortho-mosaics and digital terrain models

The Benefits of Using UAS

  • Speed – Provide clients with the information they require within a short timeframe, rather than using traditional surveying methods, which may sometimes be slower
  • Cost effective – data is obtained quicker than conventional methods, so surveyors can complete jobs in shorter amounts of time
  • Safer – Surveyors do not need to actually venture into an area that may be hazardous for a variety of reasons
  • High level of accuracy – a UAS can obtain highly detailed data. This is related to the number of overlaps obtained during the flight – the more overlaps, the more detailed the recorded information
  • No requirement for an on-board qualified pilot as they are unmanned
  • Able to fly and collect information during rain, cloud, fog and darkness

Required Qualifications

Training in using a UAS is required and provided by most manufacturers. Training may include safe handling, route planning and safe flying guidelines.

The Australia Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) states that the main controller of a UAS/UAV must have passed the theory component of a Private Pilot Licence (practical not required). CASA also requires users to understand and follow guidelines on airspace use, flight radio operator rules and obtain a UAV Controller Certificate.

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