Skip to Content

How Much Can Drone Inspectors Make?

Drone use has expanded as more pilots have been able to explore the possibilities of using drones commercially.

At first, it was just photos and videos (and having fun), but then people realized that the data that could be provided from these photos and videos in inaccessible places was extremely useful.

After that, other types of inspections using drones commenced.

Standard drone inspections can range from $50 to $200 per job.

In this article, we will talk about the different inspections that can be done using drones, and how much money these drone inspectors make in each industry.  

Standard inspections

The first type of drone inspection we’ll cover is the standard inspection, which is when a drone inspector uses a drone to take photos and videos of a roof or inaccessible area of a building.

Image Credit: Unmanned Aerial Operations

This type of drone inspection was the first, so it’s the most widely used today. This also means that standard inspections are the most inexpensive way to get a drone inspection.

Keeping that in mind, the drone inspector is likely going to make less money than other types of drone inspections that will be discussed later in this article. 

The drone inspector will fly the drone around the rooftop, taking photos and videos of any areas of interest in the rooftop as a whole.

The same goes for if they are simply inspecting a part of the building that is hard to reach.

Using a drone to perform these inspections allows the pilot to safely view this area of interest without putting any human life at risk.

Before drone inspections like these, it was common for companies to send up a person in a harness to climb these buildings, or in the case of a rooftop, walk the rooftop.

Some of this is still done today, but using a drone instead is a lot more common.

Standard inspections can range from $50 to $200 per job.

Some jobs can be higher depending on the area of interest or the type of building inspected.

An example of an inspection with a higher pay rate is taking photos and videos of cell phone towers.

This has become a relatively large industry with major providers paying drone pilots significant amounts of money to simply take pictures and video of a cell phone tower. 

However, it’s not as standard as it may seem.

While you are indeed just taking photos and videos of the cell phone tower, in some cases, you may need a special camera so that the disturbance and the frequencies from the cell phone tower do not interfere with the camera signal.

With upgraded equipment, you’ll be able to charge more.

Better sensors

Drone inspectors that use cameras, such as multispectral, thermal, or sensors such as LiDAR stand to make quite a bit more money than standard drone inspectors.

Image Credit: Unmanned Aerial Operations

Using thermal cameras, a drone inspector can perform inspections on residential, commercial, and industrial structures and buildings.

An example of a thermal inspection done on a residential building may be a drone pilot using the thermal camera to orbit the house, identifying any places where there might be heat leaking out of the structure.

This spot where heat is leaking out is simply defined as a heat leak.

Drone inspectors may charge anywhere from $100 or more for the service.

However, since it is using a higher grade of equipment, most inspectors may choose to charge on the higher end, sometimes even over $200.

The drone inspector may be able to charge less for each job because they’re getting more work overall.

Commercial building inspections using a thermal camera may be important to the infrastructure of the building because something could be wrong with the piping of the HVAC, or just like in a residential area, an AC leak could be occurring in the building.

Commercial buildings are usually worth a large sum of money, and companies occupying commercial buildings usually must meet a standard of safety in the workplace. 

Not only would identifying heat leaks make the building’s heating more efficient, but also prevent further damage to the building.

Identifying hot areas in the piping could uncover a problem with the piping itself. Without identifying issues, pipes risk bursting and possibly injuring a workplace employee.

Not only do pipes get inspected with a thermal drone, but so do generators, arc reactors, and other electronic equipment.

These latter items may be of even more risk to the workplace employees because they could cause a fire, which has the ability to burn the entire commercial building down and injure many people.

In industrial structures, such as solar panels, drone pilots performing inspections may use their thermal cameras to map or photograph solar panels for hotspots.

A hotspot is where the pilot encounters a warmer area on the solar panel relative to the rest of the solar field.

This hotspot usually means that in this area the solar panel is not collecting and transmitting the sunlight into energy as effectively as the rest of the solar panel.

That panel usually has to be repaired.

These drone pilots stand to make a large sum of money doing this job, possibly more than commercial inspectors and certainly more than residential inspectors.

Drone pilots using these thermal cameras stand to make quite a bit of money.

However, the thermal cameras that attach to the drone are fairly expensive, so you’ll need some skill working with these thermal cameras to do your job properly.

3D modeling

Another way drone pilots can make a fair wage performing their work is by using photogrammetry to create a 3D model of structures.

Image Credit: Unmanned Aerial Operations

As discussed previously, drone inspectors can use standard RGB cameras to take photos and videos of a structure.

This is an effective way of viewing structures and examining them in post for any deficiencies.

The pilot can also perform either an automated flight or a standard photography mission where they take detailed photographs of the structure so that in post-processing, they can create a 3D model of the structure.

Since this takes more time than standard photography as well as using thousand-dollar mapping engines, the drone pilot can create the 3D model and earn a higher wage compared to a drone inspector.

It’s hard to say how much the drone inspector can make from 3D models, as these days, mapping engines come at various high prices.

Another variable in determining how much money a drone inspector can make using 3D models for their inspections is the location and size of the building they’re inspecting.

If the building is very large (meaning that more photographs will have to be taken as well as more data used in processing the 3D model), the drone Inspector will be able to charge more for their services.

Not only does the size of the building matter, but the location and remoteness of the building may play a role in determining how much the drone inspector will make as well.

Lastly, the performance of the drone inspector’s camera and the quality of the sensors will play into how much the drone inspector makes from a 3D model.

For instance, a drone pilot using a camera with a 12-megapixel lens/sensor stands to make less than a pilot using a 48-megapixel camera.

This is because the details that will show up in the 3D model after it’s been processed are less than that of the 48-megapixel camera.

To make the 3D model useful, the client will have to be able to see the details of the structure. Shown below is an example of a 3D model made using a 48-megapixel camera.

This 3D model was created by Unmanned Aerial Operations when performing a drone roof inspection.

Another way of creating a 3D model for drone inspections is using LiDAR. Drone inspectors who use LiDAR to create 3D models of structures will make far more money than anyone on this list.

This is because LiDAR units are extremely expensive and use different technologies and software to create a 3D model than standard photogrammetry techniques.

LiDAR is essentially a unit, shooting lasers and measuring the distance from the laser to the receiver to determine the location and size of an object.

In many cases, using LiDAR is going to be a more accurate representation of the structure you’re inspecting. 

Internal company inspectors

Another use of drone inspections is for powerline inspections. Drone pilots inspecting power lines are often contracted by larger companies to work alongside them.

An example of this is in North Carolina, where Duke Energy uses its internal drone pilots to inspect power lines over long distances. 

This is possibly the lowest-paying form of drone inspection, mostly because you’re working for a company and making a lower hourly wage.

While this is the lowest wage in the short term, having a job that provides you consistent work may break even with drone inspectors who only get a couple jobs a week but make a higher amount during their jobs.

Not only is the technology used for inspecting power lines less advanced, but also the skill level for performing these inspections is lower.

While it’s not always the case that a company will be hired to inspect the power lines, there are certain cases where a drone service provider may be hired to do it, and they will more than likely make more money than an employee of the company‘s internal drone division.

How much can drone inspectors make? It depends!

Overall, drone pilots performing inspections stand to make a good wage, and in some cases, a fairly consistent feast as opposed to famine.

It all depends on skill level, the amount of work the pilot receives, and the technology that they are performing these inspections with.

Obviously, the subject matter of your inspections will make a big difference too. It’s a great field to work in!