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How to Start a Drone Inspection Business

The drone services market is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. If you’re thinking about starting a new business, the way to go is to choose a business that includes technology- like the drone. There is no better time to start a drone inspection business than right now!

To start a drone inspection business, you need to have some basic knowledge of how to run a business. You need to have a drone, and get training as a drone pilot, and get certified by the FAA. Then look for drone inspection jobs, and market your business.

What kind of training and skills do I need?

While formal training is not required to become a drone pilot who is licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), anything you can do to improve your skills will help you operate at a higher level and produce quality work that stands out. There are numerous drone pilot training programs that you can find online- some of them include in-person flight training in addition to the online courses. 

If you want to produce work that stands out from all other companies, you will want to further your training regarding operating drones and their features. For example, learn more about producing quality video, learn techniques and software that will help you provide more detailed mapping and surveying data, and you can even become a certified Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) Technologist.

Operating and flying a drone aren’t the only skills that are needed in running a drone inspection business. You will need practical business skills that are an integral part of running a successful business. Whether you go to a formal business school or you are self-taught, a little knowledge goes a long way. Customer service skills are always an asset.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with any regulations in the area you will be working. Make sure you know the rules found in FAA Part 107. There are certain federal rules such as not flying over people, only flying during daylight hours, or using anti-collision lighting if flying in the nighttime hours with a proper waiver, or not exceeding 400 feet above the ground. Make sure you know and follow these rules in order to avoid fees or losing your license.

You’ve decided to go for it and to start your own drone inspection business, but now where do you start? We have all of the answers that you’re looking for to successfully start your own drone inspection business. The first item on your agenda is to get started as a commercial drone pilot recognized by the FAA.

Steps to Getting Started as a Commercial Drone Pilot

The steps to becoming a commercial drone pilot vary depending on whether you are currently a Part 61 certificate holding pilot or if you are a first-time pilot. We’ve outlined brief instructions for both.

First-Time Pilot

  1. The first step in the process of becoming a commercial drone pilot is to obtain an FAA Tracking number, which is also referred to as an FTN. This is done by creating an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA). The IACRA ensures that applicants meet requirements through an extensive data validation procedure.
  2. Next, you will need to schedule an appointment with a Knowledge Testing Center. To become a drone pilot, you will need to pass an initial FAA aeronautical knowledge exam. You will need a government-issued ID to take this test.
  3. Once you have passed the FAA knowledge exam, complete FAA Form 8710-13 to obtain a remote pilot certificate. 
  4. Complete a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security background check. 
  5. Once the TSA security background check and all other FAA processing are complete and approved, you will receive a permanent remote pilot certification via mail.

» MORE: How to Become a Professional Drone Pilot

Pilots with a Part 61 Certificate

  1. Log into your FAA account and complete the online training course titled, “Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems ALC-451”. 
  2. Log into your IACRA account and complete Form 8710-13.
  3. Next, once you have completed Form 8710-13 and have your photo ID handy, you will need to make an in-person appointment to validate your identity with one of the below. They will provide a signature and issue a temporary airman certificate.
    • FAA Flight Standards District Office
    • FAA-designated pilot examiner
    • Airman certification representative
    • FAA-certificated flight instructor
  4. A permanent airman certificate will be mailed to you.

A remote pilot certificate is valid for two years. After that, you will need to complete FAA approved online training every two years to keep your license up to date.

What equipment do I need? 

The most important piece of equipment that you need for a drone inspection business is a drone, of course! You will want to consider the type of inspections that you will be doing and what the conditions will be like. This will have an impact on the type of drone you choose. For example, you want to look for a drone that can fly well in windy conditions, or other extreme weather conditions, to stand up to the rigors of working in the field. 

A drone with GPS guidance allows you to let the drone handle the flight functions so that you can focus on mapping or panning the camera for inspections. This feature is a must for anyone in the drone inspection business.

Electronic devices can emit electromagnetic signals that may interfere with your drone’s communication and electronic systems. A drone with electromagnetic shielding can be well worth the price. Do thorough research before purchasing a drone for your business.

The type of camera that you will want to be attached to your drone can also make an impact on the type of drone that you choose. Do you want to be able to shoot 4K videos or slow-motion videos? You may need a camera with the ability to zoom well. An interchangeable payload will allow you to complete more technical inspection jobs. A thermal camera can be useful for electrical lines. Again, do research to determine which camera will best fit your needs.

Safety should always be a priority when operating a drone. The pilot should wear a hard hat and a vest if operating in the field. Have plenty of extra batteries in case they are needed. It’s also a good idea to invest in a landing pad for your drone because it can help prevent damage.

What kinds of work/projects does a drone inspection business do? 

Most drone inspection businesses do work with both construction companies and homeowners alike. The services provided can benefit each party equally. Sometimes a homeowner wants to inspect the work that a contractor has completed, or a construction company needs photographic evidence for litigation purposes. There are a variety of reasons that each may need the services of a drone inspection business.

Drones are especially convenient to inspect roofing. Using a drone makes it easier to view those hard-to-reach places. Many drone inspection businesses provide inspections of soffit, gutters, stucco, and shingles. 

As you can imagine, inspecting the exterior of a high-rise building can be quite difficult without a drone. A drone inspection business can verify that construction work has been done right. These inspections may include inspecting caulk joints or post-tension patch inspections.

Drone inspection businesses often provide inspections for businesses in heavy industries, including inspections of power lines, giant silos, steam turbines, solar farms, cranes, and more. Using a drone for these types of inspections creates a safer work environment for employees.

How much should I charge for aerial inspection services?

Pricing for drone services can be tricky and there are no standard rates for drone inspection services. The price you set for an inspection should factor in the costs of running a business, manpower, and software. Your skills are a valuable asset, so don’t undercharge. Make sure you communicate your value with your customer- this includes having the ability to fly a drone, operating sophisticated hardware, photography/videography talent, and any deliverables.

» MORE: What to Charge for Drone Services

What else do I need to know to run a successful drone inspection business?

As with any endeavor in life, it’s always good to have a plan. Set a baseline for your business so that you can track your success. Your business plan should include marketing, business structure, and should determine your niche. Marketing can be particularly difficult for companies that underprice their services and marketing in the construction industry can be a tricky thing. Many successful businesses will hire out marketing to companies that understand web development, SEO, social media, customer resource management, and data analysis. 

About the author: Andrew J Kobza is the CEO of Professional Drone Solutions, a company of FAA Licensed Drone Pilots Serving all of Florida and the Caribbean.