In the last few years, it seems drones have gone from a simple and quirky child's toy to a disruptive technology finding use in a wide range of industries. This growth has taken many analysts by surprise. Even more exciting is that we are still at the beginning of drones finding their place in our world.
With breakthroughs in payload capabilities, flight time durations, and optics happening all the time, engineers and innovators are continually expanding our idea of what drones can do for our society. As technology continues to improve, more and more industries are exploring the use of UAVs. It is the dawn of the UAV era.
For many use cases, drones are an easy sell. They are relatively simple to use, often cost less than traditional methods, keep people out of harm's way, and can easily be adapted for a wide range of tasks.
Technological advances and increased adoption of UAV technology across the world mean there has never been a better time to become a commercial drone pilot.
If you are like many people and have wondered if a new career in the growing drone industry is worth a look, you have come to the right place. Together, we will explore why becoming a commercial drone pilot is worth further consideration. The work brings with it many advantages, especially now, while the drone industry is still in its infancy.
Low Startup Cost
Many new careers present a barrier to entry in the form of considerable upfront costs. If you decided to open a restaurant to pursue your culinary dreams, you would likely need a lot of money to get things going. Thankfully, this is not the case for becoming a commercial drone pilot.
Entry-level drones for commercial work can cost as little as a few hundred dollars. As new models are released, experienced pilots often sell their older drones for a fraction of what they would cost new.
To become a commercial drone pilot, you must pass the FAA's Part 107 exam. The test will cost you $150. Set yourself up for success by working with a test prep service, such as Altitude University. You will not be disappointed with the results. Altitude University has a 99% passing rate.
Even administrative and operational costs, such as insurance, can be found at hourly rates. This, of course, gives you the ability to only pay for it when you need it. This is especially beneficial during your first few gigs where rates will not be as high as you can command once you have more experience.
While you will find no shortage of additional gear to buy, all you really need to begin working in the industry is a drone, computer, and your Part 107 license. There are few careers, especially technology-based careers, with such a low startup investment.
Easy to Learn
Like any profession, commercial drone pilots can become highly skilled and specialized. Many of the top-level pilots have spent decades as professional photographers and crewed aircraft pilots. After years of training, they can work for Fortune 500 companies and major players in the entertainment industry.
New commercial drone pilots may not initially know anything about the industry and still, can quickly become successful. When I help people interested in becoming UAV pilots, the main hurdle to climb is the Part 107 exam. Everything else is straight forward and can be learned on the job.
Even flying the drone is relatively easy to pick up. From personal experience, I find most new pilots become skilled at the operation of the UAV within 40 hours of flight time.
Work Is Everywhere
Commercial drone pilots can find work around the world, unlike other professions where your customers need to come to you. Because a drone allows you to travel just about anywhere you like, your customers are everywhere. A pilot may find themselves shoot a multi-million-dollar mansion in Malibu one day and a week later find themselves filming a lost city in uncharted regions of the Amazon rainforest.
To make finding work easy, there are several well-established websites for hiring drone pilots. Droners.io, Drone Deploy, Drone Base, and Fly Guys are just a few sites where new pilots can find work. Here commercial drone pilots can bid on projects without worrying about marketing their services.
Job boards such as Linkedin, Glass Door, and ZipRecruiter all post openings for short-term and long-term UAV projects. Many of these positions offer generous salaries for even entry level UAV operators.
Of course, there is always pounding the pavement. Look around your area for businesses that may need aerial photography for marketing or improving their operations. You would be surprised how many businesses within 10 miles of your location could potentially need the services of a commercial drone pilot.
Numerous Options for Work
With so many companies adding drones to their operations, pilots can choose from a long list of career paths. Your work as a commercial drone pilot can keep you close to home or, if you like, send you to the far-off corners of the world.
Pilots can choose to start their own drones as a service business or work for some of the world's largest companies, like UPS or Google (Alphabet). Let us look at some of the more common career paths available to new commercial drone pilots.
Real Estate Photography
One of the most accessible areas to get into fresh off earning your Part 107 license is the real estate industry. Whether a real estate agent is selling a single-family home or a multistory commercial office building, photos of the property are almost always a necessity.
Drones offer a prospective that ground photography cannot provide. From an aerial viewpoint, a potential buyer can see more about the subject property than ground photography can provide. From the air, one gets a better understanding of the roads and other businesses or attractions in the area.
Having this higher level of understanding is a significant selling point for buyers. Real estate agents are aware of this, and UAV aerial photography is in demand.
The United Nations estimates the global population will grow to 9.7 billion people by the year 2050. Current food production around the world cannot sustain a population of that size. Feeding the world will require agricultural production to become more efficient.
Drones can use cameras, thermal images, and multi-spectral imagery to greatly aid any agriculture operation. A drone with the right equipment can identify plant count, the presence of disease in plants, nitrate levels, and water levels in soil, among other essential data.
This information helps to make operations more efficient and profitable. Drone pilots can sell their services at a lower cost than traditional methods like in-person soil sampling and provide the same information in real time.
Construction & Mining
From project management to surveying, drones have found more growth in the construction and mining industries than any other. Pilots can expect to fly over sites and collect valuable data for project completion status, surveying, supply levels, and equipment location.
It is especially useful for planners to have the information provided by a UAV. Data on production status and supply levels allows for better planning and improved logistics.
There are several companies in the insurance industry looking to work with or directly hire commercial drone pilots. When an insurance claim is filed, an inspector will often need to survey the damage and determine the amount of coverage required to repair it.
Inspecting damage to a roof, for example, is time-consuming and places the inspector in danger. A commercial drone pilot can quickly fly over the roof and assess the degree of damage without risk to personal safety.
Solar panel fields, wind farms, and oil & gas facilities require constant monitoring. Visual inspections have traditionally taken a long time to complete. In many cases, such as inspecting a wind turbine, personnel are put in harm's way to understand the condition of various pieces of equipment fully.
Commercial drone pilots can survey this equipment far faster than a human can. With additional tools such as thermal cameras, drones can identify solar cells not functioning correctly and machinery that is overheating. With more advanced equipment, even gas leaks in oil & gas pipelines can be identified by commercial drone pilots.
Entertainment & The Arts
If you have aspirations of being a part of the movie industry, an award-winning photographer, or helping people capture special life events such as weddings, drones may be your foot in the door.
Many organizations, from local news agencies to major motion picture studios, use content created with drones. Pilots can use their skills to capture amazing scenes for action movies or breathtaking views of nature for magazines like National Geographic.
If you are already a professional photographer, drones can expand your craft. The aerial perspective offers artists a breadth of subject matter that is only recently beginning to be touched.
As you can see from these few examples, there are many options available to commercial drone pilots. Once you have studied and passed the Part 107 exam, there is no limit to what you can do with your newfound, and highly marketable skillset.
Meet The Author
David Daly is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and former United States Marine Corps officer. He is a consultant to the UAV industry and runs a commercial UAV company (Vigilante Drones) and a non-profit (Vigilante Cares) which uses drones to help military veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).