A drone is an unmanned aircraft with its history dating back to the 1800s. Although initially designed for military expeditions, drones now serve multiple key roles in the economy. Even with a surge in their production, one question remains for many interested parties. Are drone jobs in demand?
Depending on the experience and skill, multiple opportunities exist for qualified candidates that include formal employment, freelancing, and entrepreneurship where the demand for drone operating skills grows daily. Unlike regular aircraft, drones operate from a single remote source through the stewardship of a licensed ground pilot.
To understand the drone market better, I set out to do a comprehensive analysis of various drone programs, their commercial pilots, and the various restrictions facing the drone industry. Here’s what I found.
Are Drone Operators In Demand?
According to research and markets, drone piloting has moved from a hobby into a serious profession with a 51.1% expected growth rate in the next five years.
The study further projects that the drone service market will create about 100,000 jobs by 2025. Different companies will spend over $16 billion on drones in the next eight years with advertising agencies, construction, and security firms being among the first.
Fortunately, drones can’t (yet) operate by themselves and a majority of the modern types require human guidance to carefully execute specific functions.
Without a doubt, as better drones continue to enter the market, skilled drone operators will be highly sought-after people. Some sectors where drone operating skills are currently in demand include the following.
Property investors are always looking for drone pilots who know their craft. Besides knowing how to operate a drone, prospective real estate drone operators should be able to take clear aerial photos and videos of homes, communities, and housing development projects and turn these raw images into client-ready deliverables.
Skill in gathering data on different properties is an added advantage.
While drone-filming projects are usually on a case-by-case basis, this industry presents a real opportunity for drone pilots looking to grow their craft. The main task is to take aerial establishment shots, record chase scenes, and compile aerial stock footage.
With potential danger everywhere, different arms of government use drones to curb, mitigate and control situations for the welfare of all.
In a fire station, for example, drone pilots undertake various responsibilities like crime scene mapping, fire scene management, search and rescue, emergency deliveries, and pre-fire planning.
As perhaps one of the most critical sectors in the economy, the use of drones to improve yield is becoming essential. A drone pilot is responsible for flying over large crop fields to create NDVI and 3D maps for tracking crop health and turf management.
Besides operating a drone, the pilot requires no additional skills to carry out their tasks in this field.
Mapping and Survey
With basic surveying and drone operating skills, you can become an in-demand drone pilot. Apart from construction companies, mining and aggregates companies actively look for candidates who can conduct pre-building inspections, stockpile measurements, and progress monitoring.
There are numerous opportunities for rising talents and experienced drone pilots with extra knowledge of other industries besides their own. This begs the next question.
How Much Money Can You Make As a Drone Pilot?
After doing comprehensive research of various drone pilot salaries, I have concluded that there’s no “fixed wage for all.”
Depending on the experience, employer, and industry, a drone pilot can earn a significant amount similar to other careers.
As an independent contractor, you can make any amount so long as you position and package yourself as a professional entity. The secret to making good money as a drone pilot is to sharpen your skills and target the right opportunities.
Here are the best avenues to ply your trade where you earn some good cash.
Industry Professional within a Drone Program
While some industries toy around with the concept of drones, others have fully incorporated the idea. Most companies involved in construction, security, and transportation have full departments dedicated to drone operations.
In a drone program, the main tasks are to work coherently with a team of experts in managing drone operations and processing the data collected. You receive a full salary with benefits as per the employer’s wishes.
Besides formal employment, entrepreneurship is the next best opportunity for a drone specialist. With the right tools and legal documents, you can set up a profitable drone-based business.
In my experience, I have seen many drone workers create side hustles that have become big businesses. For example, your drone operating skills can become a goldmine doubling as a videographer, photographer, or GIS specialist.
These are highly sought-after services that require relatively little capital to set up.
Freelance drone operators are usually beginners looking to get some experience and cash in at the same time.
Platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, and drone-specific sites such as DroneBase offer real opportunities to grow your resume and expand your network. These places are full of clients who offer well-paying contracts for drone operating services.
As a drone pilot, it is not enough to know how to fly a drone. You must have complementary skills in the industry that set you apart from the crowd.
For example, if it’s the construction industry, understanding surveying and tracking techniques is a head start.
Is Being a Drone Pilot a Good Career?
Like most career paths, operating a drone requires certification and licensing. To become an advanced and successful drone pilot, and to earn money with your drone, you must pass the FAA knowledge test.
As a first-time applicant, you must be 16 years and above, have a government-issued ID, be of sound mind, and know how to read, write and communicate in English.
Upon registering with the FAA for your licensing test, you will also be issued a study guide and free two-hour training for interested parties. If you’re not confident in your ability to use self-guided study techniques, I recommend taking a Part 107 training course. These training courses will guide you through everything you need to know, and many will refund your testing fee if you don’t pass the first time around.
Here’s the process of applying to become a professional drone pilot.
Scheduling an Appointment at a Knowledge Testing Centre
Over 700 testing centers around the country are responsible for administering FAA knowledge examinations to prospective drone pilot candidates. Before you register, you must show proof of a legal ID and have an FAA tracking number.
Passing the Aeronautical Theory Test
For such a simple course, the part 107 test contains a series of questions that test both your mental and physical endurance. Test topic questions revolve around areas such as:
- Emergency procedures
- Determining the performance of a small unmanned aircraft
- Aeronautical judgment and decision making
- Radio communication procedures
- Preflight inspection routines
There’s a 48 hour waiting period before you receive a confirmation email with your drone pilot certificate attached. Always carry the certificate issued when flying a drone for professional purposes.
Although this test is mandatory, passing is never a guarantee. Here are some tips to help you excel.
Prepare for New Questions
I’ve seen candidates in many instances use questions from past exams as their main reference point. While there’s nothing wrong with reviewing prior exams, don’t rely on this knowledge solely.
The FAA knowledge exam includes current issues and circumstances thus your mind should be flexible enough to accommodate new questions.
Read the Full Question
Part of being a qualified drone pilot is having a keen eye for detail. Some questions in the exam primarily test your patience and attention to detail. Ensure you read and understand each question and if a question isn’t clear don’t be afraid to re-read. It is also helpful to go through all the answer choices before settling on one.
Use Provided Resources
While cheating is a strict no-no in the exam center, there are some resources provided to help you reach your answers. For example, at the beginning of your supplement test booklet, there’s a legend that you can use to trace different airspace boundaries. Be keen enough to notice the little hints around.
Completing FAA Form 8710-13
After passing the Part 107 drone pilot test successfully, login to IACRA and follow these steps:
- Go to “Start New Application”
- Apply “Pilot” as the Type
- Choose “Remote pilot” Certification
- Other Path Information
- “Start Application”
- Follow the prompts and electronically sign the application
Cement your new status as a drone pilot by taking Form 8710-13 to a flight standards district office or to a designated FAA-certified examiner.
How Much Does a Drone Pilot License Cost?
According to government directives, anyone who intends to fly a drone for commercial, governmental, or non-recreational purposes must obtain an FAA-approved license. Flying a drone without this certificate could attract stiff financial penalties.
To obtain a drone pilot license there are a series of steps to follow that cost a few dollars. For an FAA-authorized license, there’s a flat-rate fee of $170 paid directly to the testing center before scheduling a drone pilot test.
In a PSI-owned center, the cost is slightly lower with the exam fee at $109. There are no additional charges for processing a certificate.
After completing the FAA knowledge exam and obtaining a license, seek out opportunities with an open mind. Besides formal drone jobs, there are other ways you can make money as a drone pilot.
As the world embraces other technological devices, the popularity of drones will increase and more drone jobs will take center stage. If you love drones, get an edge, and get into the professional industry now before it’s flooded!