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Drone Pilot Jobs: How to Make Money with Drones

Drones used to be just a fun new pastime for hobbyist photographers looking to get cool aerial shots, but now drone jobs are a thing and people are making money with their drones.

When the toy drones boomed two years ago, just about everyone of all ages were playing with these remote-controlled toys.

Now, drones are no longer just used as a hobby. It has actually helped many photographers to scale up their services (wedding aerial photos/videos), create several types of high-paying drone jobs, and allowed people to open up shop that revolved around drones.

According to a study by Research and Markets, the drone service market around the world is projected to grow 51.1% now until 2027.

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If this sounds interesting to you, check out how to monetize your ability to fly a drone.

How to Make Money with a Drone

Making money with drones can be achieved in two ways: get hired as a drone pilot or create a drone business.

This post will tackle both income generating methods, so you can weigh which route you’d prefer to take.

Drone Pilot Jobs

Flying a drone has become a profession on its own, but since it is relatively a new niche, drone pilot jobs are still being discovered.

Here’s what you need to know:

The jobs you’d find available for drone pilots are mostly freelance basis. Skylogic Research published a 2018 study that says about 62% of drone services providers are self-employed.

Depending on how you look at things, this bit of detail can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

On one side, as a self-employed drone pilot, you have total control of your business and how big you’re willing to scale it up.

On the other hand, there’s no stable 15/30 paychecks for you, so you’re going to need to hustle to reach your goal monthly income.

  • Drone pilot – You are the one controlling the drone from the ground, so you need to have experience flying these things. The equipment are not cheap, which is why your skills matter a lot for this job.
  • Drone instructor – You need to be highly knowledgeable and experienced in flying and troubleshooting drones of different kinds. You should have the reputation and work to backup your teaching service.
  • Drone engineer – If you’re already in the aviation, electronics or electrical engineering industries, consider switching to a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) engineering path for higher pay. Because this industry is still pretty young, you can find work in the product development, research and technical support with less competition.

Many industries are still discovering how to incorporate flying drones into the respective industries, so more and more types of drone pilot jobs appear every day.

In fact, you can check out “drone jobs” or “UAV pilot” in sites like Drone base, DroneJobs.org, or Indeed.

How much does it cost to become a drone pilot?

This isn’t just about taking photos with your phone. Flying a drone is an entirely different thing and it needs very specific skills, training and certification.

To become a done pilot, you’ll need to invest in education, equipment and certification.

Education

You can take a course (similar to Drone Pilot Ground School) for $300 or more, or learn on your own. Flying drones require a lot of practice, so you should be able to handle various models and brands without anyone’s help.

If you’re planning to build drones, you’ll need a more extensive course (in technology, engineering degrees).

Equipment

Freelancers must provide their own drone for their services. It is probably the only disadvantage of going self-employed (instead of employed), since a quality drone can cost up to $1,500. If you’re looking for a trusted brand, there’s nothing better than DJI hands down.

You’ll also need a couple of extra batteries, a photo/video editing software, and other drone accessories, such as professional filters.

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Certification

Before making money with a drone, you’d have to get licensed first.

You must visit the Federal Aviation Administration, and take the test (it costs $150 complete with study materials and training lectures) within 2 years from payment. Once you pass, you’ll be able to fly a drone as a service provider.

How much can a Drone Pilot make?

Full-time drone pilots can make anywhere from $38,000 to $130,000 per year, according to PayScale.com.

The money you can make as a drone pilot depends on several things, including what line of business you decide to focus on (weddings, agriculture, security, engineering, mapping, etc.), how much time you spend marketing your services, the quality of your work, your reputation, and more.

Freelancers have more flexibility when charging clients.

If you were contracted to take drone photos, you can get paid from $70 to $250 per picture. Mapping, inspection, deliveries, or search and rescue fees are usually set on a case-to-case basis.

But this can still depend on which client you have.

For example, real estate agencies getting a drone shot of a million-dollar property can bank higher than other gigs. In most cases, you’ll be able to charge higher to corporate clients, than individuals.

Drone Business Ideas

The following drone business ideas can help you discover specific niches where you’d like your career to go.

Note that if you prefer working as an employee, this list will give you an idea what companies may be looking out for a talented drone pilot.

1. Aerial Photography and Videography

This category is probably the most familiar way people use drones. If you’re interested in aerial photography or videography, you can have a career or business in various industries, including:

  • >Wedding – The biggest craze are those aerial shots of churches, gardens and other wedding venues.
  • Real estate – Showcasing the property from all angles help in advertising real estate. This also works with commercial properties such as hotels and resorts
  • Advertising – You can sell PR and ad agencies anything as big as aerial videography and cinematography because it’s still a new concept and can still be explored creatively.
  • Sports reporting – While drone shots of sports have been very popular lately, it’s slowly extending to general news reporting (from crime to other beats).
  • Film – Aerial cinematography is on a league of its own, but it does exist. You’d likely be handling more powerful equipment than wedding photographers/videographers use.

You can also go freelance and sell your aerial photographs, or create a YouTube channel to showcase your work.

2. Inspection

Drones are also great as tools for inspection of hard-to-reach areas, such as communication towers, wind farm, pipelines, bridges, wells, rooftops and chimneys of everything from houses to skyscrapers, cables, remote stations and so much more.

These jobs required helicopter or airplane use in the past.

Drones are better alternatives because they complete the tasks without any danger to human life.

And since drones are equipped with advanced cameras and video transmitters, they’re capable of inspecting these facilities properly.

Note that you’d have to be highly skilled in flying drones because it can be dangerous to crash into towers, or damage extremely-expensive equipment.

The upside to higher risk of liabilities is that you’ll be paid better than regular aerial photography gigs.

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3. Mapping

You don’t need to exclusively target a specific group of people or building when flying with drones.

In some cases, clients will just request you to survey a parcel of land.

Not only will this work for city planning, construction, and topography, many more industries that require mapping and surveying can benefit from flying drones.

If you’re offering this service, check companies and government agencies involved in mining, forestry, archaeology, oil and gas.

4. Agriculture

Agriculture is an industry benefiting from the popularity of drones, and the development is quite interesting to witness.

If you’re an experienced farmer, you can combine your skills with technology and farming by flying a drone to produce crop health imaging, control pests, spray crops, plant crops, detect soil composition, and switch up farming strategies.

5. Search and Rescue

While often a voluntary position, you can find search and rescue employment with the government, Red Cross, and other organizations.

It’s also very rewarding, especially if you’re trying to deliver food to people affected by natural disasters, find missing people, and so on.

Flying drones during emergencies (earthquakes, hurricanes, flood, etc.) can be extremely successful, especially in areas not accessible by water or land.

6. Drone Deliveries

Drone delivery is a thing.

Big retailers like Amazon and AliExpress use drones for deliveries.

Non-profit organizations, hospitals, institutions and other private companies have been incorporating drone deliveries to clients located in areas hard to reach by vehicles.

However, investing on delivery drones can be expensive, since the equipment are more heavy duty than regular photography drones to be able to carry loads seamlessly.

7. Security

Professional security agencies can explore drones as an alternative to surveillance of wide areas.

While drones cannot shoo trespassers on the spot, video capture can help in guarding or documenting multiple areas at a time.

Drones are also being used in private investigation, making it safer for people in the security and surveillance industries do their jobs. And because drones today have thermal imaging, HD videos, and other advanced features, drones can survey an area even at a distance and still reach the intended target.

8. Passive Income via Blog or YouTube

You can begin an online business and see where it goes.

For example, you can earn cash by maintaining a blog and placing Google AdSense ads all over. You can post aerial photos of real estate, agriculture, flowers, and other niche that you may find interesting that fits into your drone adventure.

If blogging isn’t your cup of tea, you can go the YouTube route and publish footages from your drone instead.

Other Drone Business Ideas

  1. Drone sales – Of course, if you have the marketing skills, you can always go the reselling route, but you’d have to be perfectly knowledgeable and passionate about your products. Drone insurance may also be included as part of your portfolio, so you might want to check that out as well.
  2. Drone rentals – I don’t recommend going into the drone rental business, since the these drones are vulnerable to damage.
  3. Environmental conservation – Government agencies can hire you to fly drones for them, checking areas and see if businesses are complying with conservation or other environmental regulations. Researchers can also seek your help in getting aerial imagery of their studies of polar bears, birds, or other hard-to-reach animals.
  4. Filmmaking – Aerial cinematography is on a league of its own, but it does exist. Because drones do not need cranes and other heavy-duty equipment to carry cinema-quality cameras, more and more filmmakers are trying out drones for movie production.

The Bottom Line

Drones do work with a sophisticated remote control, but it doesn’t mean everyone who has had video game practice can do this.

Flying drones is still a unique skill and the drones themselves aren’t cheap, so you’d have to be careful with your equipment while mastering how to fly.

Now that you know how to make money with a drone, you’d have to practice religiously and learn everything you can about the local and state laws of flying drones. Generally, the FAA has authority of all things flying over the skies, but this agency also won’t save you if your drone flying ways break local or state laws.

Whether you’re going to do this as a freelancer, or set up a business around drones, make sure you give a leeway for maintenance (or replacement). Track the drone’s mileage and prepare money for emergencies (missing/damaged drones).

If you’re really interested in flying drones as a way of income, you have to understand that this isn’t an easy way to make money. You do have control how far you want to scale this business and since the market isn’t saturated yet, there’s a chance you can break into a niche industry that nobody hasn’t thought of yet.

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