20 surprising disadvantages of drones [Insider experience]

As drones become more and more common in our everyday lives, we always have to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of using drones either as hobbyists or for professional purposes. Proponents of drone technology will always be quick to point out the benefits of drones for professional purposes. It’s important to note that some important disadvantages of drones need to be highlighted here.

There are very important disadvantages of drones, such as the risk a drone poses to aircraft and the limitations on the technology, including flight time and load-carrying capacity.

This article will go through the top 20 disadvantages of drones and the important considerations you can make before purchasing your drone for amateur photography or professional services.

disadvantages of drones

1. Pose a risk to other aircraft

One of the biggest risks and disadvantages of drone technology is its risk to other aircraft.

Aircraft such as commercial passenger jets and hobby aircraft share the skies with drones.

There are some very important rules regarding the maximum height that a drone can fly to keep a safe vertical spacing between drones and commercial aircraft.

However, some drone pilots fly too close to takeoff and landing flight paths and cause an unnecessarily high level of collision risk.

Here are a few examples of a drone being flown near airports worldwide.

Near airportsDrone too close to LAX
Too close to plane at UK airport
Logan Airport Near miss
Near Glasgow airport
Drone near Auckland airport
Drone incidents near airports

Luckily, many drone manufacturers have GPS enabled so that their drones cannot takeoff in no-fly zones near airports or other high-security areas.

2. Cause injury

There is no doubt that a drone propeller spinning at high speeds can cause injury.

A drone may not be able to cut your finger off, but it can certainly cause some damage to the soft fleshy parts of your body.

Drones have been linked to the following personal injuries:

  • An English kid lost an eye in 2015 after a drone propeller ripped open his eye after the operator lost control of the drone.
  • In California, a drone hit an 11-month-old girl in her stroller, causing facial lacerations. The drone cut her face.
  • In 2016, two wedding attendees in North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the wedding’s hosts, alleging physical and mental injuries. The drone collided with them during the reception, allegedly injuring them physically and emotionally.

Throughout 2019 and early 2020, I utilised my drone extensively for vlogging and showed people my everyday routine as a startup founder. I even thought of myself as a Casey Neistat impersonator for a while!

I enjoyed the dynamism it added to my videos, but as you become more experienced with flying and more comfortable coming close to the drone, you are more likely to be injured. In the same way, as I did:

My experience with my drone injury was divided into three categories:

  • The bruising caused by the damage was far worse than the cuts I received.
  • It wasn’t as bad as when I used a cheese grater to remove the top of my finger.
  • After two weeks, it was completely healed with no scarring – just a lesson learned!

Nonetheless, a drone can cause significant injury if the conditions are right and the propellers contact eyes or other easily damaged soft parts of your body.

3. It can be expensive

Drones can be a pretty costly piece of equipment.

It would help if you didn’t put yourself in financial distress only to get a new tool, no matter how cool it is.

Numerous pastimes do not require a significant financial investment. Buying a used DSLR camera if you want to get into photography, for example, could be just what you need to get started with your new pastime.

A drone’s cost extends beyond the cost of the drone itself.

It would help if you accounted for the time it would take you to become a qualified pilot, the cost of a powerful smartphone or tablet, and extra batteries and propellers.

Some drone manufacturers provide drone packages at a reasonable price, which can assist reduce the startup cost.

The following are the most expensive components to consider when purchasing a drone.

  • Drone – the drone can range from $40 to tens of thousands of dollars. Buying a drone with only the functionality you need (and nothing more) is a great way to cut your initial investment. The most costly drone isn’t always the best drone for your needs.
  • Time – buying a drone entails a time commitment. Manufacturers have made it simple to get started flying, but your local rules and regulations may need you to spend time obtaining your licence.
  • Costs of licencing – most jurisdictions are now requiring drone pilot training and licencing. Typically, there is an annual price for registering your drone and a one-time test and payment for becoming a certified pilot.
  • Smartphone/tablet — Unless you buy a drone with a screen incorporated into the remote control, you’ll need to bring your smartphone or tablet. Drone applications should be executed on smart devices with the most recent firmware available.
  • Extra batteries — extra batteries for your drone should be obtained. You will have more flight time, but you’ll also have replacement batteries if the manufacturer decides to retire the drone—something that is less anticipated than it should be.
  • Maintenance costs — keeping a drone in the air costs a tiny but significant sum of money. I recommend buying propellers regularly and stocking up on a couple when you initially get your drone. If your drone crashes, you’ll most likely need to replace parts, have it repaired, or purchase insurance to cover any damage.

4. Cannot fly in increasing places

One of the most annoying things about flying a drone in modern times is that the legislation is slowly catching up to the reality of how drone pilots want to fly.

Unfortunately, many places are perfect for flying your drone, but residents have lobbied the council to ensure that drone pilots cannot fly there.

In my home town of Adelaide, I regularly see updated signs along the lines of the sign below:

Because of the quick uptake of drone technology by everyday hobbyists, the legislation took a while to catch up. Unfortunately, I feel like they will overreact to the dangers of a drone before pulling them back to allow people to fly in locations with good opportunities for stunning drone photography and videography.

5. Privacy concerns from the public

The influence of drone technology on individual and corporate privacy is one of the first security concerns that people have when launching a camera into the sky.

Many drones are equipped with cameras, and piloting regulations dictate that you stay at least 30 metres away from people and property. Unless your drone has a particularly good sensor and camera, it is unlikely that you will be able to be detected at this distance.

Drone operators’ acts may be considered criminal offences in several cases. For example, in Queensland, Australia, recording someone without their agreement when they are in a private place or performing a private act is unlawful. Capturing them in their yard while flying above their house could be private.

The realities of what a drone can see at a given distance are not intuitive for many people.

A typical 1080p drone camera can recognise individuals up to 50 feet away. The camera can classify items (such as people, animals, or cars) between 50 and 100 feet; beyond 100 feet, the camera can only detect movement and not determine objects or recognise humans.

If you want to know more about how far drone cameras can see, check out my other article that goes through the detection, classification, and recognition distance limits of a range of different camera qualities.

disadvantages of drones

6. Mode switching can be dangerous

During flying, a drone may automatically switch between flying modes.

The mode switching is particularly true of the DJI ATTI mode.

Attitude mode is abbreviated as ATTI. The GPS and global navigation satellite systems and object avoidance sensors are deactivated in this mode.

An onboard barometer keeps the plane level and maintains its altitude. This mode is designed to capture smoother footage, fly indoors, or prevent flyaways in the event of a lost GPS connection or compass issues.

A drop-in GPS signal can easily activate this mode. If this happens and you are not familiar with flying your drone manually (without GPS), it can cause serious issues for returning your drone safely.

7. Lithium polymer recycling is not mature

Finally, when demand for an electronic product grows, one of the negative aspects of each new consumer good is the amount of waste produced.

Up to 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste are produced every year, with a 20 per cent increase in the last five years. There is little doubt that e-waste can generate a large amount of garbage — a landfill that has the potential to be highly dangerous – if it is not properly recycled.

There is a shortage of recycling infrastructure to manage electronic garbage in many world regions.

According to the global e-waste statistics collaboration, America only collected roughly 9% of its e-waste in 2019.

8. Limited distance

Drones have got a significantly limited flight distance due to the small battery. Even though drone batteries are getting better, the average drone can fly approximately 6 km away from the remote control.

However, the journey for this is only in a straight line away and back again.

It will not be seeing any drones that can deliver packages any significant distance for a long time. There will have to be a step-change in battery technology.

9. Cannot carry much weight

Because of the limited battery capacities of drones, they cannot carry much of a payload.

Here is a comparison of commonly available drones and how much they can carry.

DroneMaximum PayloadSource of information
DJI Matrice 600 Pro6 kgOfficial Website
Freefly Systems ALTA 812 kgOfficial Website
DJI Agras MG-110 kgOfficial Website
PD6B-AW-ARM20 kgOfficial Website
DJI Mavic Mini181 gYouTube experiment
DJI Mavic Air331 gYouTube experiment
DJI Mavic 2 Pro531 gYouTube experiment
DJI Phantom 31.1 kgYouTube Experiment
DJI Phantom 41.1 kgYouTube Experiment
DJI Spark65 gYouTube Experiment
VALKYRIE HEAVY PRO30 kgOfficial YouTube video

If you’re thinking about using your drone for carrying items, for example, drone fishing, you’ll have to do your research to ensure that the drone can carry the payload and return safely.

10. Not useful if you have limited time

If you don’t have the time to fly your drone regularly, you shouldn’t purchase one. For nearly a year, I was able to fly my drone virtually every day while creating material to promote one of my businesses.

Nowadays, I fly my drone when I go on vacation with friends and visit new intriguing places.

Some folks are fortunate enough to be able to fly their drones from their homes. I need to fly my drone somewhere because I reside within 5 kilometres of an airport. A 20-minute commute to the beach quickly becomes a whole morning or afternoon spent flying my drone.

disadvantages of drones

11. Tech becomes obsolete very quickly

One of the issues with any new technology is that the manufacturers constantly improve the software and hardware.

Like every other fast-moving technological field, drones are quickly replaced and become obsolete.

One of the issues of drone technology is that if the manufacturer does not continue with a particular drone, you can end up with struggles finding replacement parts.

For example, my DJI Mavic air is a fantastic drone, but I am struggling to find replacement batteries due to discontinuation from DJI.

Eventually, I will have to purchase another drone because I will no longer be able to buy replacement parts.

If you want to purchase a drone, please be aware that you will not be able to buy replacement parts within a couple of years. If you can afford it, stocking up when you first buy the drone seems like the best way to ensure that you keep your drone for a long time.

12. Editing drone video and photos is another skill to learn

Learning to edit and colour grade drone photographs and movies elevates every drone video and snapshot to new heights (pun intended).

Another time-consuming aspect of owning a drone is editing and organising your footage. Drone photo editing software with artificial intelligence techniques is becoming more affordable, and the process can now be completed in a fraction of the time.

When it comes to buying software for drone photography, I believe there are two options to consider:

  1. AirMagic is a set of low-cost AI-driven technologies designed exclusively for drone photography. It’ll make the editing process more enjoyable, and you’ll be looking forwards to getting back out flying!
  2. Gimp – if you don’t want to waste money on stuff you won’t use but need the strength of a full-featured image manipulator, GIMP is the tool for you.

Using simple software modifications like colour grading and exposure balance, I’ve turned some of the worst images from the flight in to some of the greatest photos of the day.

13. Can cause confrontations with the general public

Some residents object to drones flying over their property. I understand. It can feel like an invasion of privacy to folks who don’t have access to a drone.

I’ve also had a handful of individuals approach me and inform me that I am not permitted to fly in a specific region.

They have been members of the general public and officials from different government services and private companies.

I often apologise and land as quickly as possible since I don’t want to discredit myself or other drone pilots.

It may be embarrassing, but being humble is preferable to being in a fight. If you believe that this kind of interaction will discourage you from flying your drone and that it will be difficult to avoid flying near people, purchasing a drone may not be worthwhile.

14. Need to look after lithium polymer battery well

Drone batteries are typically lithium polymer. The lithium polymer batteries are super lightweight and have a high energy carrying capacity. However, they are a little more temperamental than lithium ion batteries, and extra care needs to be taken when using them.

Follow these simple guidelines if you want to care for your drone batteries properly.

If you treat them with care and respect, there’s no reason they won’t survive a long time. The batteries will survive for 500 or more charge cycles if done correctly.

  • Keep them clean and dry
  • let your batteries cool before charging
  • store at 50% charge
  • fully cycle the lithium polymer battery on first use
  • keep in a cool spot

Follow these simple rules, and your battery will retain its charge for longer and last for years.

15. Very easy to crash and damage

You don’t need me to tell you that drone crashes are a real risk when purchasing a drone.

Drones are very easy to crash even under the lightest of heavy landings.

Each time you fly your drone, you run the risk of damaging it and fatally destroying the drone.

I have had my drone for more than two years, and I have never crashed it because I am a diligent drone pilot and always fly within my capability. I never take my drone out if there are strong winds or a significant chance that the drone will become damaged.

Fly within your capability and slowly push your skills and familiarity with the software to ensure that your drone returns safely after every flight.

disadvantages of drones

16. Need to keep up to date with all of the laws and regulations

being a conscientious drone pilot means keeping up-to-date with all of the laws and regulations for flying your drone safely.

As more and more jurisdictions become familiar with drones and rush through requirements and red tape, this will continue to increase.

Drone laws and regulations are also regularly updated, and if you are not on a mailing list, it can be hard to work out exactly what the drone regulations are at any given time.

A disadvantage of drone ownership is that you need to apply for all of the boring licenses and admin work before getting into the fun act of flying.

17. Place for storage

Drones aren’t necessarily large items, but manufacturers’ trend is to get them bigger and bigger.

Presumably, the bigger drones are manufactured due to their stability and ability to fly longer. Manufacturers are in an arms race with each other for bigger and better drones.

As drones get bigger, their requirements for storage also increase.

A dedicated draw with low dust count and low temperature fluctuations are the best place to store your drone and lithium polymer batteries.

As you fly your drone less and less, make sure that you keep the batteries charged so that they don’t fully deplete and are irreversibly damaged.

18. Limited flight time

Below is the table are some of the most popular drones currently available, their weight, flight time, cost, and how many dollars per minute of flight time each drone has.

DroneWeight / gFight time / minCost US$$/min
Mavic Air 25703479923.5
Mavic Mini2503039913.3
Phantom 4 PRO V2.0137530159953.3
Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom90631159951.6
Vanguard35009030,000+*333.3
Anafi Parrot3203266720.8
Inspire 23440273549131.4
Phantom 4 RTK1319305890196.3
*based on the last model

19. Affected by wind

Drones are heavily affected by the wind.

Anything above a force seven wind, around 17 to 20 m/s (38 – 45 mph), is far too dangerous to operate a drone. Commercially available drones, such as the DJI Mavic and Phantom series, should not be flown in gusts exceeding two-thirds of the model’s maximum flight speed.

The level of drone wind resistance is highly dependent on the drone’s top speed. It also depends on the drone’s motors’ acceleration to combat wind gusts.

Wind resistance is frequently expressed in terms of a level by manufacturers. The Beaufort scale is the name given to this level. It’s an empirical measure that connects wind speed to observed circumstances on land or at sea.

Different drone models have different power outputs, and you should look for the number that specifically relates to your drone model and make.

DroneMaximum speedWind resistance
Mavic Mini13 m/s8 m/s
Mini 216 m/s10.5 m/s
Mavic Air 219m/s10.5 m/s
Mavic Pro Platinum18 m/s10 m/s *
Mavic Air19 m/s10.5
Parrot Anafi1514
DJI inspire2510
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.02010
DJI Phantom 4 RTK3118*
DJI Matrice 300 RTX2315
Autel Evo 2 Pro2017 -20 m/s (Force 8)

*calculated 2/3 maximum speed

20. May need to sit exams

Since I’ve had my drone, it’s gone from a permissionless activity to requiring a pilot’s licence and drone registration.

Even though the online exams are simple to complete, some consumers may be discouraged from acquiring a drone due to the administrative burden.

In some regions, you can buy a smaller drone (less than 250 g) and avoid regulations or licensing requirements.

When you buy a drone, you take on the duty of remaining current on all drone regulations and being on the right side of the law.

Summary

In this article, we have been over everything you need to know about the disadvantages of drones.

Despite all of these disadvantages, I love flying my drone and have turned it into a small business from which I earn some passive income.

If you are still excited about getting a drone after reading all of these disadvantages, I will encourage you to go for it and get excited about your new hobby.

Happy drone flying!

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones. His favourite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!