Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Drone piloting is a lucrative business. According to Insider, the field should grow to $63.6 billion in the next three years. That means demand for drone pilots should only increase over time.
However, because drone technology is still relatively new, many people don’t realize how much money you could make as a drone pilot. To get you started, I’ve put together this list of the best drone piloting opportunities.
You can pick from many niches, but the best jobs for drone pilots include:
- Real estate photographer
- Broadcast journalist
- 3D modeler
- Agricultural inspector
- Search and Rescue personnel
Dive in to see which position tickles your fancy the most.
Thankfully, I’ll also discuss what you need to know before starting your own business as a drone pilot.
Table of contents:
- What Jobs Can You Do With a Drone?
- Is There a Future for Drone Pilots?
- How Much Do Drone Pilots Make a Year?
- How Do You Become a Professional Drone Pilot?
- Parting Advice:
What Jobs Can You Do With a Drone?
The primary role of a drone pilot is to operate the aircraft remotely to perform tasks such as photography, surveying, mapping, and inspection. There are different types of drone operators, including:
- Commercial drone pilots
- Military drone pilots
- Hobbyist drone pilots
Military drone pilots receive specialized training, depending on the service branch. For instance, the Air Force demands you to be a commissioned officer to pilot a drone, though a pilot’s license isn’t necessary.
For civilian drone pilots, you’ll need to get your remote pilot certificate (RPC) first. The FAA requires drone pilots to hold this certification before operating a drone commercially.
You need to pass a written exam to receive your RPC and apply for jobs as a drone pilot.
Top drone pilot job-hunt sites include:
Enough said, here are some of the best drone pilot gigs available:
Many filmmakers turn to aerial cinematography when filming movies. Aerial shots provide dramatic effects and allow viewers to see things from an entirely different perspective.
Drones significantly reduce set delays. Other film gear, like massive camera cranes, typically require much time to transport and set up. If helicopters grab the aerial shots, more hours are necessary.
However, when film crews use drones, setup time is less, as are the production days.
Cinematography has a lot to offer in bringing a film’s narrative to life, and one element it can convey is scale. Although ground cameras can accomplish this by photographing a character standing close to an enormous structure, this technique isn’t as efficient as using drones.
Drones enable filmmakers to get more comprehensive views adding invaluable depth to scenes.
Filmmakers often choose drone pilots to film aerial scenes due to the high level of skill required to operate a drone safely.
The daily drone usage cost in a film was around $4,500- $13,000 in 2018, contrasted from a copter at around $20,000 to double that. With that in mind, expect aerial shooting gigs available to drone photographers to be in plenty for ages.
Due to the ease and geometric precision of 3D models generated from drone images, they have numerous applications in many sectors.
Construction firms can quickly evaluate site progress through frequent updates and easily inspect various site areas. Due to the precision of the 3D models, they’re applicable in calculating distances, areas, and volumes.
Moreover, it’s easier to obtain an up-to-date view of a landscape. Another application of drones in land surveying is the creation of comprehensive models of:
- Bare earth
- Digital surfaces
- True orthomosaics
- 3D terrain
Inspection firms can safely and efficiently scrutinize previously unspotted equipment and property angles. They can identify potential issues using intricate drone 3D models, annotate them, and check the initial imagery for a better view of a given area.
Agricultural inspectors use drones to check crops. They:
- Inspect fields for pests and weeds
- Measure growth rates
- Take photos of plants
They then send those images to farmers and agricultural institutions to know if there are any problems with their crops.
Given the vast terrain to survey, drones increase efficiency by enabling you to grab high-resolution pictures more quickly than other methods.
Estimating annual yields, especially in volatile market conditions, can guide decision-making and manage anticipations.
Additionally, drones are a safer option to map difficult areas. Examples are irregular or expansive fields, which can be dangerous for operators – especially in contrast to terrestrial methods, which you must do on foot.
Journalists use drones to cover breaking news. Some even use drones to get exclusive footage of major sporting events like the Super Bowl.
They can capture stunning images and videos that would otherwise never be available to the public.
The primary benefit of drone journalism is its low cost. Chartering helicopters costs thousands of dollars per hour, which only the wealthiest media organizations can afford.
On the other hand, a freelance journalist can easily purchase a drone and have a piece of recurrent intelligent equipment for media coverage. For example, DJI Mini 2 costs under $500 and can shoot incredible 4k videos.
Unlike choppers, using drones avoids endangering human life. For instance, using drones to photograph a warzone or toxic spill is tremendously safer than a crewed aircraft.
Archeologists use drones to study ancient ruins. They fly over sites and take high-resolution pictures of artifacts, which helps them learn more about the history of a place.
Drone technology provides data-rich, accurate maps and photogrammetry that enable ground workers to determine new dig sites and relics. This saves not only time used in fieldwalking but also money by avoiding costly excavation costs.
Drone data enables breakthroughs in archeology and reshapes the understanding of how ancient peoples lived.
Multispectral imagery is the most frequently used drone imagery by archeologists. Irrespective of your position, you get a real-time aerial view of the site using tools like Thermal Live Map.
Additionally, generated maps help to locate areas of focus. Because multispectral imagery penetrates the ground, it identifies objects embedded under the surface as they are typically warmer than the surrounding soil.
Besides, this bird’s-eye view identifies areas where vegetation grows uniquely, which may indicate buried artifacts.
Geologists use drones to map mineral deposits and search for natural resources. Besides oil and gas, geologists visit coal mines, gold mines, and other quarries.
Drones collect data in tricky and volatile areas like deep mines, high walls, and crests.
Additionally, aerial data collection from blast sites mitigates the risk of ground-level exposure to such threats.
In most cases, surveying and mapping mineral sites is a lengthy process. A mining company saves time and expenses by hiring a drone pilot in place of a crewed piloted plane.
Also, drone technology allows the collection of unlimited information, including fine measurements, while photographing high-end orthoimages.
One of the most challenging issues of managing stockpiles for any mining company is their immense height-end area, which frequently changes. Mining companies use drones to create aerial ground models of their inventory.
Effective stockpile management can result in significant advantages for mining companies, including grade maximizing.
Search and Rescue Member:
While rescue missions save people from risky situations, they also put responders in danger. That explains why a growing number of rescue teams rely on drone technology to aid them in their assignments.
Drones quickly scan large regions and rugged terrain to locate missing persons and gather meaningful information before rescuers arrive. This way, it gives them a proper context to decide accordingly and act quickly.
While you hope never to require the assistance of SAR teams, the reality is that they are in greater demand than ever. In recent years, natural disasters occur often in many inhabited regions.
As climate change progresses, the frequency of these calamities and the need for responders in saving lives rises.
Moreover, increased outdoor activities in the USA, particularly in remote areas, are increasing the need for these teams. SAR groups are inadequate in many locations, as the majority rely on volunteers to staff their ranks.
To cater to such issues, these teams must complete missions with meager resources and time.
Drones can provide teams with a wealth of data at a faster rate without costing too much or risking lives, as is the case with helicopter usage.
So, with your knowledge in drone piloting, venturing into SAR is an excellent choice likely to pay off.
Real Estate Photographer:
An aerial surveyor uses a drone to collect data about real estate properties. This data includes information like
- How much land does a property covers
- Whether the property is suitable for development
- What kind of infrastructure is necessary
Aerial surveyors use their findings to create maps that show potential buyers what they’re getting themselves into.
Financial advisors use drones to scout real estate properties once listed. Drones can also be used to measure land values and ensure that homes sold have fair prices.
Drones capture aerial views of houses for sale. The resulting images give buyers an idea of what the house looks like when viewed from above.
Is There a Future for Drone Pilots?
Assessing local drone piloting demand is a necessary first step in opening a business within this sector. Only adequate local research addresses this need.
That said, national surveys in this industry predict rapid growth, which inevitably affects local opportunities.
Many enterprises are expanding their drone programs. In this venture, they are looking for qualified drone pilots and hiring them to meet their needs.
Until recently, few businesses hired full-time drone pilots. However, as drone adoption increases and regulations evolve, more full-time and paid positions become available.
Drone service demand is largely driven by a growing need for surveying, inspections, and mapping. Industries like infrastructure and real estate, as well as media and entertainment, are using this technology to a large extent.
Not to mention, there is a high need for drone solutions from multiple other industries, including agriculture, law enforcement, industrial, and more.
How Much Do Drone Pilots Make a Year?
Few understand just how lucrative drone piloting can be. People make thousands of dollars per month driving commercial drones.
But, exactly how much is a drone pilot making these days?
In the US, for instance, average drone piloting salaries stand at $58,280 per annum. Nonetheless, these wages vary statewide, with quite a number surpassing the mid-income.
Washington peaks the list, followed by Maryland and Nebraska in second and third place, respectively. Nebraska outperforms the average wage by 5.8%, while Washington by $5,723 (9.8%).
Notably, Washington has a thriving drone pilot demand, as several companies provide this position.
How Do You Become a Professional Drone Pilot?
To be a highly demanded professional drone pilot, master the art of flying a drone. You don’t need a drone to know how to fly one; a flight simulator will suffice.
Flight simulators are an excellent place to start. However, you need to learn how to operate the real thing eventually, so acquire a drone.
If you’re thorough about earning a living as a drone pilot, it’s probably best to invest in a high-end drone rather than a mid-range model you’ll need to upgrade.
For instance, if you’re considering a career in mapping, skip the Mavic Air 2, which lacks the camera quality this niche demands. Instead, opt for something like the DJI Inspire 2 and minimize your long-run expenses.
There are a plethora of online drone training courses, ranging from fundamental flight expertise to industry-based skills like surveying and cinematography.
However, not all these courses are equal. Some are meticulous and offer practical techniques for skill development. On the other hand, others are simply rambling “tutorials” with little to help you advance your skills.
To legally fly a drone commercially, you need a drone pilot’s license. In the USA, the FAA sees-to-this. Similar agencies issue these licenses in other nations, though the process varies by agency and nation.
Acquire Industry-Based Knowledge:
With your professional drone piloting license in hand, you’re ready to earn money. Regardless, even with reasonably competent drone flight expertise, making adequate money as a drone pilot to support yourself is difficult without specializing.
When you begin your career as a commercial drone pilot, obtaining the appropriate training is critical to your success. Whether it’s agriculture, mapping, or other industry, investing time and money to learn a few things makes you unique from other job seekers.
Don’t suppose that a standard business policy is adequate, as it most likely isn’t. If you’re starting out, consider a flexible insurance policy that includes coverage for actual drone flights.
As your business expands, you’ll likely need a more comprehensive policy for full protection.
At your carrier’s start, grab any drone piloting gigs that come your way. These are fantastic opportunities to gain experience and build your portfolio.
A good place to start is creating a DroneBase account, though this job-hunting technique is unprofitable in the long run.
Even so, earning a little money and experience are vital for career building and confidence-boosting. So, don’t be too picky about the jobs you take at the start.