What is an Aerial Survey?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 January 2020
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An aerial survey is a survey that is conducted from the air. There are a number of different types of aerial surveys, ranging from surveys conducted to improve maps to surveys of wildlife populations. This type of surveying can be performed by government agencies, private organizations, or companies which are hired to conduct a survey. Data from aerial surveys is used in a wide variety of settings.

Planes are commonly used for aerial surveys, but it is also possible to use helicopters and hot air balloons. At the start of the aerial survey, people identify the objective, including the area to be covered, and they confirm that weather conditions are favorable. The weather usually needs to be clear, with low wind, so that visibility is good and the aerial survey route does not need to be altered to accommodate bad weather.

In many aerial surveys, cameras are used to document the survey. Both still and video cameras can be used, and in addition to capturing images in the visible range of the spectrum, they can also pick up emissions from areas of the spectrum such as the infrared zone. This can sometimes provide valuable information about the area being surveyed. Surveyors may also keep a log, as when people conduct a wildlife survey and take note of every animal spotted.


During the aerial survey, the aircraft uses GPS devices to carefully track its position, tagging film and logs with positional fixes as well so that people know exactly where things were seen. Some examples of things aerial surveys can be used for include: mineral exploration, wildlife surveys, forestry surveys, fishery surveys, mapping and community surveys.

Software for managing aerial surveys is available from several companies, with various products tailored to specific survey activities. The software can be used to create detailed logs which can later be analyzed to process the data from the aerial survey. Raw survey data is not always published, due to the sheer volume of material, but it may be made available by request.

Conducting aerial surveys allows people to cover a lot of ground, in contrast with surveys on foot or in vehicles. It also has higher resolution capacity than satellite imagery, allowing people to strike a balance between the desire for detail and the need for broad coverage. This survey technique is extremely popular in many areas of the world, and the information collected with aerial surveys continues to expand human understanding of the surrounding world.


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