Drone jobs have exploded over the last decade. Since the FAA launched its Part 107 rules in 2016, formalizing the rules for commercial drone operations, the ability to make money in the drone industry has grown significantly.
[Jump down to search for open drone jobs or keep reading to learn all about the different types of work being done in the drone industry.]
We created this resource to help you navigate all the drone pilot jobs you’ll find in the drone industry right now. In this guide, you’ll find information on the types of uav jobs out there, industries using drones in their work, some examples of compensation and salaries, and actual job listings.
Keep in mind, if you want to work as a drone pilot in the U.S., you’ll need to obtain a drone license from the FAA. Learn more about that process in this in-depth guide.
But before we go any further, we want to ask you a question: Why are you here?
We’ve created this page to help you learn more about the jobs for drone pilots available in the drone industry, both for pilots and non-pilots, and to help you better understand all of the types of work currently being done with drones.
The video below is a great place to start, but please check out more information below.
In the list of drone careers below we focus on big trends we’ve seen in the drone work our students have been doing over the last few years, which means that there are many other drone use cases and job opportunities that we haven’t covered here, like wildlife tracking, wedding photography, or ecology, to name just a few.
Want to skip around? Use the chapters on the right-hand sidebar, or use this menu to skip to your section of interest:
Through their work in real estate marketing, drone pilots have been providing realtors with a perspective that was never possible before. Using aerial stills and videos, as well as 3D maps and orthomosaics (maps made of images stitched together that have been corrected so that the scale is uniform, and has the same lack of distortion as a map) created from data captured by drone, potential buyers can now get a comprehensive view of the property they’re thinking about buying.
The types of drone pilot jobs you’ll find in real estate are often freelancer gigs done by a single drone pilot working on a set or hourly fee to capture aerial stills and video of a property that’s for sale, which the realtor will then use in promotional materials.
Another typical real estate marketing offering these days is a virtual tour of a property, which is a video walk through of the entire property, including both aerial and ground footage.
Drone work in real estate marketing requires skills in both flying and in video / photography work.
For a typical real estate drone job you’ll show up at the property, get the coverage you need, and then go home and work on the raw material until you have usable images and video to give to your client—which means that you’ll need to be able to handle post-production for the raw media you capture to turn it into actual deliverables (i.e., finished photos and videos) for your client.
You don’t need a high-end drone to be a competitive drone pilot in the real estate marketing space. For many pilots, a DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 or Mavic 3 does the trick just fine. If you’re looking for ideas on which drone to buy for real estate work, check out our guide to camera drones for some options.
When it comes to post-production, you’ll need some kind of software to process your images and video footage. Adobe Photoshop is a good option for images and Adobe’s Premiere Pro also comes recommended for editing video footage. Another solid choice for video is Apple’s Final Cut Pro.
Most of the drone pilots we’ve spoken with, price their real estate work either as a package or by the hour. Hourly rates can vary from $25 / hour all the way up to $200 or more.
It’s important to determine a minimal cost that takes into account your investments in the craft, gear, insurance, education, and so on to determine where your break-even is. When discussing the budget, keep the discussion focused on the scope of work. If their budget is lower, reduce the scope of work, NOT your prices.
– Clifford Pickett, Clifford Pickett Photography
When it comes to setting your own hourly rate, some drone pilots recommend starting relatively low and then growing how much you charge based on demand. If people are knocking down your door to get your services, it’s probably a good time to think about raising your prices. But if you’re struggling to find new work, it might be a good idea to consider lowering your prices to see if that helps.
It’s also important to keep in mind that pricing is directly related to location and skill. Work in Los Angeles is simply going to cost more than in other areas, just as highly skilled work will also cost more.
Right now I’m working on a project for a builder who has 40 parks within an area in Eagle Mountain, Utah. I am charging $150 per park for this job. Each park will consist of about 10 photos and several video shots, and each of those video shots will be edited into a 20-second clip. I’ll probably be able to do 5 to 6 parks per day, spending about four hours a day, which would come out to around $225 per hour, with the total price for the finished project being $6,000.
Some jobs require long-distance traveling and overnight accommodations—in these cases, I’ll usually take all of the transportation cost and included it in the estimate for work. So if the total cost of travel, food, and board comes to $1000 I’ll add that amount to whatever the hourly rate is for that particular job. For example, four hours at $250 would be = $1000, plus the $1000 for travel expenses, so the total for the job would be $2000.
But if the work is quick and easy I might only charge $100 an hour. Sometimes I think you need to be creative and estimate what the job is worth to you.
– Derrick Ward, Hot Shots Aerial Photography
Drone pilot jobs have been growing steadily across these three sectors in the last several years. Using drone data, these industries can save big money by conducting surveys that help companies keep track of various aspects of their operations, from the volume and precise location of stockpiles, to the progress of work in various locations of a project, to the safety conditions in critical areas of a site.
Using a drone, a construction, mining, or aggregates company can survey a huge area, process the data using software created for that purpose, and understand exactly where all their materials are or where work might be falling behind. Drones can also help do planning work—using a 3D map created with aerial data, a construction company can understand where they can or can’t build, and a mining or aggregate company can identify the locations that are better or worse for digging and storing materials.
Without a drone, information like this has to be gathered manually by surveyors or other personnel walking the entire site on foot, which is both time consuming and less accurate. In 15 minutes a drone can capture the same data that it might take a person walking on foot several hours to collect. Using a drone also means that no one has to enter potentially dangerous areas on a site to collect information.
More and more, drone pilot jobs in these industries sometimes take the form of in-house, full-time positions. But companies are also hiring freelancers to do inspections and surveys, and to create 3D and orthomosaic maps. These maps can be used to show clients the progress of a big project, or to identify areas where the work has fallen behind.
To get this kind of drone job you’ll need to have some experience conducting surveys by drone, and understand how to create the outputs your client needs—whether it’s an orthomosaic map, or just photos and video footage of a given location to help guide planning efforts, or get insights into how a project is progressing.
A 2018 report created by Skyward found that Construction & Engineering accounts for 35% of the companies who responded to their survey as using drones in the commercial sector—which is good news if you want to break into flying drones in this area, because it seems like there is lots of work to be had.
You’ll probably want some kind of tougher platform made for industrial scenarios for this kind of drone work—Yuneec’s H520 or DJI’s Matrice series are both solid options here. If your budget is tight you might want to consider looking at DJI drones with a lower price point, like the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 or the Mavic 3. You can also check out our guide to professional drones for more options.
When it comes to software, you’ll need something to help you process the raw data you collect by drone into the deliverables you’ll be giving your client. DroneDeploy is a go-to option for turning aerial images into orthomosaics, 3D maps, and other outputs. Pix4D is another good option, with a suite of software choices for different mapping scenarios. To learn more about all the mapping options out there, check out our beginner’s guide to drone mapping software.
Based on the research we’ve conducted, many pilots are starting at about $50 an hour for this type of drone work, and for highly skilled pilots they’re charging much more—anywhere from $250 – $500+ an hour, depending on the work, location, and skill level required.
We’ve also read about more experienced pilots working full time in these areas who are making anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 or more a year. But as with anything, your earning potential in this type of work will be directly connected to your level of experience and knowledge.
It’s now commonplace to see sweeping aerial shots in movies, T.V. shows, and documentaries, and there’s a reason for that—using a drone, producers can now get beautiful aerial shots that previously would have been cost-prohibitive, because they would have required a helicopter.
A drone pilot can put a UAV in the air and get aerial coverage of a location quickly and nimbly, and drones also don’t incur the same kinds of insurance costs as helicopters. This means that there is growing a field of drone pilot jobs in the film industry.
From what we’ve been told by drone pilots working in the entertainment industry, most of the jobs flying drones in film isbe for specific projects—that is, most of the work is on a case-by-case basis. For example, a drone pilot might be brought in to get an aerial shot of a chase scene, or of a location, but probably won’t be kept on the crew for the entire duration of a shoot.
Finding a drone pilot job in the film industry will probably require you to live in an area like Los Angeles or Atlanta, where this kind of work is available. The advice we’ve heard is to make sure to get your name out there by networking and offering to do pro bono drone work, and that, as people get to know you, you’ll slowly start to develop a list of contacts that will lead to steady work.
One other thing to mention is that most T.V. and movie productions are sticklers for insurance. To appear professional—and simply to make sure you’re protected—drone insurance is a good idea for this line of work (and for all lines of drone work, to be honest).
Given the high quality of cameras on drones these days, when you’re just getting started you can probably get by fine with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 or even a Mavic 3. (DJI’s ZenMuse X7 camera was created specifically for making movies, and it’s compatible with the Inspire 2).
As you progress, you may want to consider even higher quality big rig drones like the FreeFly Alta, which will allow you to customize your payload so you can choose the camera you use for a given shoot. Want to explore options? Check out our guide to camera drones.
You’ll also need post-production software for this kind of work. Two of the most popular choices are Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Adobe’s Premiere Pro, but there are several other options out there depending on your need.
It’s one thing to learn how to fly a drone. But learning to think, film, and fly like a professional aerial videographer is another set of skills altogether. We’re partnered with Stewart and Alina over at the Drone Film Guide where they teach drone pilots a 5-step framework for creating stunning aerial cinematography. We’ve reviewed their curriculum ourselves and can vouch that the training they provide is top-notch. As a partner, we’re able to offer our readers a discount on Drone Film Guide’s 8-hour drone cinematography masterclass, Drone Cinematography Masterclass 3.0, From Drone Owner To Aerial Cinematographer.
Film work seems to pay well, from the information we’ve gathered, but the tricky thing is being able to actually get the work. Unlike other drone pilot jobs, such as shooting for weddings or real estate, finding drone work in film seems to have a higher barrier to entry, and it may take some time to develop a client base.
So how much are people making? About $200—$500 an hour, or anywhere from $1,000—$2,000 a day, depending on the project and type of work.
I typically charge $400 an hour, but the amount really varies depending on the amount of hours required for a particular job.
Some jobs pay less, and some pay even more, but that’s the average. If the client wants more than just drone shots, the price will generally be higher. Some clients prefer to negotiate for an overall deliverable instead of paying hourly, which I’m always happy to do—but even in these situations, the hourly breakdown still comes in around the $300 – $400 an hour range.
– Aerial Videographer in Los Angeles
I would say pilots are typically 1000-1500 a day. Sometimes if only doing an hourly rate for a shorter job I would say it could be about $200-$300 an hour. Whatever your pilot rate is, you should keep it no matter what you’re flying.
The bottom line is what’s it worth to you? If you’re underbidding people and hustling every day how will you compete when someone younger, newer with more energy comes along? It might work in the beginning, but it’s not sustainable in the long run.
– Max Tubman, CEO of BFD Systems
*A special thank you goes to Ryan Deremo, owner of SkyFly Cinematics in Los Angeles, CA, for his guidance in our research.
A study from Bard’s Center for the Study for the Drone found that, as of March 2020, there are over 1,500 public safety agencies using drones. This number is nearly double that found in mid 2018, and it has only continued to grow since then.
In fire departments, firefighters are using drones for greater situational awareness during fires. They’re also using drones to create orthomosaic maps of local schools and other buildings / facilities where a fire could break out, so they can understand where all the exit points are in case of a fire.
Law enforcement has been using drones in a similar manner, creating maps of highly trafficked buildings that can be used to help evacuate people during an emergency, such as an active shooter scenario. And both police and fire departments use drones after disasters like floods, hurricanes, or severe storms to locate victims in need of help, and to understand the scope of the damage in order to best direct their resources to those areas that need them most.
The skill level needed for drone jobs in public safety work can vary greatly depending on the specific use case. For example, a firefighter in California told us that drones can be helpful in locating people who fall off a cliff—instead of sending someone down on a rope, only to discover the spot they chose was wrong, they can fly a drone and see exactly where the person fell.
That scenario doesn’t require a great deal of skill beyond being able to fly the drone proficiently, but a scenario in which you need to use aerial thermography to locate people trapped in a burning building would require knowledge not just of flying, but of how to use a thermal camera under pressure.
According to information gathered in Bard’s study, many public safety agencies don’t use a heavy-duty commercial drone-like Yuneec’s H520 or DJI’s Matrice 300. Instead, some police and fire departments opt for a less expensive DJI drone like the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, or even the Mavic Air 2.
When it comes to software, DroneDeploy is a good option for creating orthomosaic maps of a traffic accident, or of a location that might be subject to emergency evacuation—once you’ve flown over the site and taken pictures you can upload them, and their software will create your map. Pix4D is another good option, with a suite of software choices for different mapping scenarios, and Agisoft is also a popular choice for drone mapping, according to a report released by SkyLogic in 2017.
If you’re new to drone software options, check out our beginner’s guide to drone mapping software to learn more about all of the options out there.
Almost all of the drone work we’ve heard about in public safety agencies is done in-house, which means that the amount of money you can make will be whatever salary you’d expect to make as a firefighter or police officer. These salaries vary greatly depending on your location.
Firefighters make, on average, a little under $50,000 a year, and police officers make, on average, a little over $60,000 a year. Of course, if you are in charge of developing a drone program for your police or fire department you may be able to negotiate for higher pay based on your expertise—but we haven’t heard of that happening from those folks we know who do this kind of work.
Following severe weather in a given area, insurance companies typically receive numerous insurance claims for damage done to the roofs of those holding homeowner’s insurance.
To assess these claims, insurance companies have traditionally had to send out an insurance inspector or adjuster who physically goes to the site, climbs a ladder, and takes pictures of each roof for which a claim has been made. But climbing a ladder all day can be dangerous, not to mention time consuming.
And that’s where drone insurance inspections come in. Using a UAV, a drone pilot can fly a set pattern over a damaged roof in 20-30 minutes and get all the images needed to evaluate an insurance claim.
This kind of drone pilot job is relatively straightforward and in high demand as a welcome replacement for manual inspections. The primary skill set required is the ability to fly—or program your drone to fly—a specific mission, and collect images while flying.
Since these missions are fairly straightforward and the images being captured don’t require an extremely high level of quality, a solid drone-like one from DJI’s Phantom or Mavic series should typically work fine for drone insurance work.
If you’re working for a drone pilot network like DroneBase you won’t need to do any post-production work, so you’ll be OK without software. If you plan to work for yourself and do not only the drone flight but also the post-production work, you’ll probably need to use either a platform like Adobe’s Photoshop to process your images or a platform like DroneDeploy or Pix4D to process your aerial data into a map, depending on the deliverable your client requests.
To give you a good idea of what you could make as a drone pilot doing insurance-related work, DroneBase offers a flat payout of $70 per mission for insurance flights. If you have several houses in a neighborhood you could hypothetically do them back to back, and make as much as $140 an hour or so.
But don’t start counting your money just yet. This kind of work is typically seasonal since it follows the storm patterns, so while you might get a lot of work at certain times of the year, the work may dry up at other times.
Over the last few years, drones have become a common tool in journalism, with aerial shots captured by drones helping us understand how a flood has damaged an area or capturing the size of a crowd, or the scope of a wildfire.
In general, drones are used in journalism as one more vantage point for helping to tell a story, since aerial stills and video footage can add an extra layer of drama to news coverage.
As with film, drones are much, much cheaper than using a helicopter, which makes aerial shots available where before there simply wouldn’t have been the budget to include them.
One thing to keep in mind about flying drones for journalism is that there is a spectrum of use cases, with a spectrum of quality required. For breaking news or disaster coverage, having the very best camera out there may not matter so much as having the footage at all. On the other hand, if you’re trying to capture an artistic still to accompany a written article or documentary-type footage for a longer video-based story you’re helping to cover, you may want a more expensive drone that allows for a customized payload so you can attach your own high-end camera, and get the very best shots possible.
The skill sets required to use drones in journalism also vary with your particular use case. If you’re working as a documentarian you may need a high level of expertise in videography and photography, whereas your skill level may not need to be quite as developed for breaking news coverage. That being said, in all scenarios related to journalism your flying skills will probably need to be top-notch, given that you may be flying under pressure in difficult situations, and you may only have one chance to get your shot.
As noted above, the type of drone you might need will vary greatly depending on the type of journalism you’re doing. For breaking news coverage you could probably do fine with a DJI Mavic 3, but if you’re trying to capture stunning images for a print story or a documentary, you may want something more high-end. An Inspire 2 with a ZenMuse x7—a camera DJI created specifically for making movies—could do the trick, or you may want to push your quality even higher than that, and look into the FreeFly Alta, which will allow you to customize your payload so you can choose the camera you use for a given shoot.
When it comes to software for journalism, you’ll probably want some kind of photo processing tool as well as a video processing tool. Adobe’s Photoshop is a solid choice for photos, or Adobe’s Lightroom could also do the trick if you don’t need to do very much post-production work on your images. For video editing, both Adobe’s Premiere Pro and Apple’s Final Cut Pro are solid options.
Most of the people we’ve met who use drones in journalism already work in journalism in some other capacity, either as a videographer, a photographer, an anchor, or in some other role.
Based on estimates from Payscale, the average starting salary for journalism majors is about $44,000 a year, with photojournalists making about $30,000 a year and news anchors making about $50,000 a year. Of course, location is a big factor in how much you’ll make in journalism—a big city is going to pay more than a smaller city—and it would certainly help to have multiple skill sets (like being able to fly a drone and write well).
That being said, there are some drone pilots out there who do freelancing work in journalism. Here is what one of them told us about how he prices his services:
Half-day rate for our photography/videography for a news-based project is $400 for the first 4 hours or any increment thereof. $750 for an 8-hour day or any increment thereof beyond the first 4-hours. Each half-hour beyond 8-hrs is $50 per. If a spotter is needed, that adds another $50 per hour for both rates.
– Elliott Francis, Drone Pilot and Owner of ReelView Aerial
Farmers have been using drones for a few years now to help them increase yields by surveying their crops to see which areas need more attention. Using a drone to do this kind of work is much faster than walking the entire farm on foot, and it’s also more accurate.
One of the most common deliverables a drone pilot will give to a farmer is a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index map (NDVI). These maps can be used to identify what plant is growing where on a piece of land, and also to tell how well each plant is doing.
New software can process the raw data collected by drone pilots to create reports for farmers indicating potential problem areas on their land, and suggesting actions to take in order to remedy the problem.
Although the potential for helping to increase crop yields is great in this new area of what is called precision agriculture, it seems like adoption has still been somewhat slow to come, with many farmers uncertain about the potential value UAVs represent for their work.
The good news about the work drone pilots are doing in agriculture is that it’s fairly straight forward—a general mission requires lots of coverage so that enough data can be collected to create a map, but it doesn’t necessarily require specialized skill sets beyond being able to fly well and safely, since the software will do the data processing.
The challenge in this field may have more to do with sales than skill. That is, with convincing potential clients that you can help them increase yields, and that, ultimately, they can make more money by spending money on your services. As time passes and drone use becomes normalized in precision agriculture, this challenge will slowly fade, but for now, it still seems to be something many drone pilots face in this sector of the drone industry.
Parrot has a drone made specifically for agricultural drone work, which is called the Bluegrass Fields. The Bluegrass Fields comes with a multispectral sensor Parrot designed specifically for agriculture, that can record images of crops in four distinct spectral bands. It also comes with a year of access to Parrot’s software for flying autonomous flight paths, so that the drone can be programmed to fly the same mission over a farmer’s crops.
But you certainly don’t have to use the Bluegrass—there are plenty of other camera drones out there that could be used for agriculture as well.
Depending on the type of mapping you want to do, there are several options out there as well that could be of use—check out our beginner’s guide to drone mapping software to learn more.
According to information we found on Droners.io, drone pilots are making anywhere from $40 to $150 an hour doing drone work in agriculture.
That being said, these amounts came from some of their top recommended pilots—there are probably pilots working for less, and we wouldn’t be surprised if there are pilots working for more, if they’ve found a way to demonstrate the value of the work they do in terms of concrete returns for the farmers with whom they’re working.
Drone adoption in the transportation sector is growing rapidly. A 2018 study, conducted by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) found that 35 states are working with drones in some capacity, with 20 states having incorporated drones into the regular activities of their Department of Transportation (DOT), and 15 states still undergoing testing and research.
As with many sectors, drones are helping to cut down the time and cost needed for inspections of critical infrastructure in transportation.
Traditionally, an inspection of a railroad would have to happen manually, with an inspector walking the track and noting any irregularities. With drones, these inspections can now be done much more quickly, and produce more accurate data.
In fact, one of the first private partners of the FAA’s Pathfinder Program was BNSF Railways, who did research on Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights for railway inspections.
To do this kind of work you need to have a general understanding of what you’re looking for in these kinds of inspections, which means making sure you get enough coverage of the assets being inspected—whether they’re railroad ties, or roads, or bridges—so that problem areas can be identified using the data you collect.
The good news is that, as software develops, we can often simply upload the raw images collected and have the software identify problem areas, as Intel demonstrated last year at InterDrone.
There are a wide range of drones that can be used for transportation inspections, and they come at a wide range of price points.
At the lower—but still highly reliable—end of the spectrum, the Yuneec H520, the DJI Mavic Pro, and the DJI Phantom are all good options. As you move up in price, DJI’s Matrice 300 is a high-quality option.
And for a really high-end option, Intel’s Falcon 8+ could be a great choice. But be warned—it could cost as much as $25,000, to $40,000, or more (they intentionally don’t release the actual price, since they customize each drone with various add-ons and features for each individual client). Check out our guide to the top professional drones on the market if you’d like to look at more options.
When it comes to software for transportation work with drones, again the go-to choices for mapping with drone data would be Pix4D, Agisoft, and DroneDeploy.
Drawing on information from the AASHTO’s report we mentioned above, a drone pilot can make about $100 an hour doing transportation inspections. For transparency, we’re getting this number from the AASHTO’s statement that inspections that previously cost $4,600 and required 16 hours of labor can now be done in 2 hours, at a cost $250 (with $50 going to rental equipment / data collection expenses).
We do want to note that the $100 figure assumes both a drone pilot and a spotter working, so that would hypothetically lower the overall hourly wage depending on how you look at it. (But if you’re running your own aerial services company, you can assume some additional personnel costs will be built into your overall hourly fee.)
Similar to transportation, drones are providing faster, cheaper ways to inspect assets like power lines and solar panels for energy companies.
And it’s worth noting that the FAA is helping to push this progress forward by allowing energy companies to begin conducting BVLOS flights—typically prohibited by the Part 107 regulations—so that larger areas can be inspected in shorter periods of time.
In April of 2018 the FAA issued the first BVLOS waiver to an energy company, Xcel Energy, for use in inspecting power lines outside Denver, Colorado. Along with this announcement Xcel shared the news that, after completing their work in Colorado, they planned to expand BVLOS inspections to other states in the U.S.
Which is all to say that drone inspection jobs in the energy sector may soon be growing quickly, as the FAA clears the way for drone pilots to do more inspections by giving more energy companies BVLOS waivers.
To do this kind of uav job you’ll need technical knowledge of what is required in inspections for power lines, solar panels, and other energy-related infrastructure. In general, the work of drone inspection jobs is to find areas that need maintenance so that problems can be detected early and addressed.
Knowledge of aerial thermography would be required for solar panel inspections and for certain kinds of power line inspections. It’s also important to note that power lines can emit magnetic interference, which can make flying difficult and can potentially fry your flight controller. A good rule of thumb is to stay at least 100 feet away from any power line when doing aerial inspections, and to avoid flying between power lines if at all possible.
Because of the electromagnetic interference power lines give off, you want to use a drone for power line inspections that has ferromagnetic protection. DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 has pretty good ferromagnetic protection (better than the Inspire 1 or 2, in fact). If you want to go a little higher-end, DJI’s Matrice 300 is created to resist magnetic interference and can carry DJI’s ZenMuse Z30 camera, which was designed with a powerful, accurate zoom for tower and other inspection scenarios that require a distance to be maintained from the object being inspected.
Check out our guide to the top professional drones on the market if you’d like to look at more recommended options.
When it comes to software for energy inspections, we’re going to be looking at Pix4D, Agisoft, and DroneDeploy, all of which are solid options for processing and mapping the data collected during an inspection.
According to information we found on Droners.io, some pilots are doing aerial energy inspections by drone for $100 an hour, working as a freelancer.
That being said, much of the energy inspection work we’ve heard of is conducted in-house, by a team of pilots trained for that purpose. Based on our research, people doing power line inspections make about $70,000—$100,000 or more a year, depending on where they’re located, what their experience level is, and how much they work.
Drone pilots are also changing the way inspections are done in the telecommunications industry by conducting tower surveys and inspections in a fraction of the time required to send a person up a tower, making the process both cheaper and safer for those involved.
AT&T began using drones for cell tower inspections a while ago, and telecommunication company Verizon sees so much potential in the drone industry that they purchased drone company Skyward in 2017 (though they ended up closing it in 2022).
Knowing what to look for when doing these tower inspections and surveys is key for this kind of drone work.
In general, when doing these kinds of drone inspections jobs pilots are looking for environmental or other hazards before climbing (bee, birds, structural damage, etc.); identifying damaged areas; or investigating the structure’s integrity before personnel climb the tower to find out if it’s safe to climb at all.
As with power line inspections, telecommunications towers usually emit some kind of magnetic interference, which could bring your drone down if you fly too close (i.e., closer than 100 feet). To do work as a drone pilot in the telecommunications sector it’s important to be a highly skilled pilot, and be able to take very accurate photographs from a distance.
Because of the similarities between energy inspections and telecommunications inspections, our recommendations are the same here. DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is a good option, because it has good ferromagnetic protection, and DJI’s Matrice 300 is also a good option at a higher price point. Also, it’s worth noting that DJI’s ZenMuse Z30 camera was made just for cell tower inspections (although it’s great for other inspection scenarios, as we mentioned above)—the ZenMuse Z30 is compatible with all of DJI’s Matrice series drones.
If you’d like to look at more of our recommended options, check out our guide to the top professional drones.
As with energy inspections, when it comes to software for telecommunications inspections we’re going to be looking at Pix4D, Agisoft, and DroneDeploy, all of which are solid options for processing and mapping the data collected during an inspection.
Based on our research and conversations we’ve had with various drone pilots, many pilots are making between $150—$300 an hour doing tower inspections for telecommunications companies.
One related data point is that a single tower climb for inspection purposes can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the scope of the inspection. This might be a useful data point to be aware of if pricing inspection services for tower companies—that is, it’s good to know that your drone inspection could save your potential client a lot of money, while still making you a good amount of money, too.
Across the U.S., drones are being used in the classroom, from elementary, to middle, to high schools, as well as in community and four year degree colleges. Unlike all the other types of drone jobs listed above, doing work in education with drones doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re great at flying—though this certainly wouldn’t hurt!—but rather that you’re incorporating drones into your work as an educator.
Working with drones in education could mean that you’re a teacher who incorporates drones into classroom activities to help students get excited about STEM subjects, or it could mean that you’re teaching people how to fly and do other things related to UAVs.
It could also mean that you start a drone club at your school to help get kids excited about the science behind drones, and about flying.
One thing to think about if you’re interested in using drones in education is whether you need to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA, which is required for all commercial drone operations in the U.S.
When it comes to colleges with drone programs, there are a few big ones out there, and more cropping up all the time. Here are some of the top college drone programs we know about:
Another thing to note is that we offer scholarships here at UAV Coach for high school students interested in becoming FAA certified to fly drones commercially, as well as a cash scholarship for students looking for college funding.
This is a hard one because there are so many ways you could use drones in education. If you’re looking for drones to buy for a club or some other organization to help students learn how to fly, we recommend looking into cheap starter drones—check out our guide to the best cheap drones out there.
If you’re looking for apps and curriculum materials that were designed to help teach with drones, DroneBlocks is a great place to get started. We also recommend checking out our partner PCS Edventures for great STEM lesson plans, drones, and other related materials you can use in your classroom.
If you’re looking for materials to help students learn how to fly, check out these top drone simulators.
Again, it’s hard to pin this down because there are so many scenarios where you might be using a drone in education.
If you’re working at a middle school, you might be making around $40,000 a year, depending on how long you’ve been there and where you live. If you’re a college professor at an elite institution it could be double that. And if you’re volunteering to help lead a drone club at a local high school, then you won’t be paid anything, of course.
As a starting place, we recommend doing research in the area of education where you want to work (i.e., grade level and subject matter), and then seeing what’s out there in terms of average annual salary data.
Want to go into business for yourself as a drone pilot?
Drone pilots working for themselves can make anywhere from $25 to $250+ an hour—it all comes down to your skill sets, your client base, the quality of your work, and how well established your reputation is in your particular niche.
Here is our list of seven things you can do to get started with owning your own drone services business—or being what many in the industry called a dronepreneur.
1. Familiarize yourself with the FAA’s requirements for commercial drone pilots.
All work that involves flying a drone in the U.S. for any kind of compensation, including in kind compensation (i.e., work for trade), is considered commercial by the FAA. To do commercial drone work in the U.S. you’ll need to hold a Remote Pilot Certificate, which requires passing the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test (also known as the Part 107 test).
If you decide you need help preparing for the test, our flagship test prep and online training course, Drone Pilot Ground School, walks you step-by-step through the information you need to know in order to pass. We’ve trained over 50,000 drone pilots for the test, and over 99% of our students pass on the first try. Here are some Drone Pilot Ground School coupon codes if you’re looking for our latest promotions.
2. Join a community forum to connect with other drone pilots, and expand your community of drone pilots. Here’s a list of communities to look into.
3. Learn about the different types of drones out there, from cheap starter drones, to camera drones, to high-end professional drones.
4. Read up on the top drone companies in the drone industry.
5. Consider tackling flight proficiency and working toward becoming a skilled pilot.
6. Look into getting drone insurance—insurance not only can give you peace of mind, but also helps professionalize your operations.
7. Do some initial business planning, including drawing up an initial budget, identifying the niche you might want to work in, and thinking through what marketing and sales might look like for your drone business.
One way to find freelance work as a drone pilot is to join a drone pilot network.
Joining a network can be a good way to build your portfolio and expertise—instead of doing free shoots for a friend to get examples for potential clients, you can actually get paid to do shoots. This kind of work can also be helpful for getting experience with airspace research, as well as growing your sense of professionalism on a specific type of drone job.
Here are our top recommendations:
Want a longer list of networks and directories where you can hunt for drone work ? Check out our full List of U.S. Certified Drone Pilot Directories and Networks.
You don’t have to be a drone pilot to find work in the drone industry.
As the industry matures, more jobs across a wide variety of sectors are becoming available. From software engineering, to marketing, to account management, to finance, and more—in this section, we list jobs pages from some of the top companies in the drone industry, where you’ll find drone jobs that don’t necessarily require you to know how to fly.
Here’s the list:
AgEagle provides software to help people use drone technology in agriculture. They are singularly focused on agriculture, with the goals of helping farmers increase yields and maximize the bottom line while reducing their environmental footprint. Their core business is making data processing software to analyze drone-collected agricultural images.
Search for drone pilot jobs at AgEagle here.
Bentley is the creator of ContextCapture, which allows users to produce large and challenging 3D models that incorporate complex real-world conditions, including scales as large as entire cities, from simple photographs or point clouds, in order to easily and quickly provide context for design, construction, and operations decisions for all types of infrastructure projects throughout the world.
Search for drone jobs at Bentley here.
DJI is one of the top consumer drone manufacturers in the world. Their Phantom 4 Pro is a go-to drone for many new drone service providers. According to data provided by the FAA, DJI’s Mavic, and Phantom series drones are among the most used purchased in the U.S. for commercial work.
Search for drone careers at DJI here.
Zeitview (formerly DroneBase) is a service that allows you to either hire a drone pilot to complete a project or become a freelance pilot for them. They match up each job and pilot based on location, availability, and equipment required.
Search for drone pilot jobs at Zeitview here.
DroneDeploy offers powerful cloud-based drone software that’s compatible with any drone. It allows you to map and create 3D models and analyze and share the data right from your device.
Search for drone jobs at DroneDeploy here.
The Drone Racing League “wants to be to drones what the WWE is to wrestling,” as Vice Magazine puts it. The Drone Racing League organizes and promotes drone racing around the U.S. and the world. Check out the DRL racing simulator to see if you might be able to make the cut and be one of their newest pilots.
Search for drone careers at DRL here.
Esri is responsible for building ArcGIS, one of the most powerful mapping softwares in the world. ArcGIS connects people with maps, data, and apps through geographic information systems (GIS). It is a location platform that’s accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Esri software is used in a variety of applications, from Fortune 500 companies to national and local governments, to public utilities and tech startups.
Search for drone jobs at Esri here.
FLIR is a company that brings innovative sensing solutions into daily life for drones through thermal imaging systems, visible light imaging systems, locator systems, measurement and diagnostic systems, and advanced heat detection systems. FLIR’s imaging solutions are not limited just to use on drones.
Search for drone jobs at FLIR here.
Flyability created Elios, the world’s first collision-tolerant flying robot capable of remaining stable after contact, safe to fly close to people, and developed specifically for industrial inspection professionals. Their collision-tolerant system allows, for the first time, safe and easy access to places out of reach of current drone systems. In 2015 Flyability won the UAE Drones for Good Award, which came with a whopping $1M prize.
Search for drone pilot jobs at Flyability here.
Insitu runs the gamut of drone services, providing hardware in the form of commercial-focused drones; software for extracting intelligence from raw data gathered by drones; and drone-related services for commercial applications, such as surveying and reconnaissance. Their ScanEagle drone was designed for aerial imaging, with diverse applications such as agricultural assessment, oil or gas pipeline inspection, and force protection.
Search for drone careers at Insitu here.
Intel is leading the industry in terms of innovation and creating new technology to meet developing needs. In the last few years, they’ve teamed up with Disney to create aerial light shows that can replace fireworks displays, using their Shooting Star drone. Intel both creates drones and the systems required for other companies to create their own drones.
Search for drone jobs at Intel here.
Aloft (formerly Kittyhawk) is a one-stop-shop for flying, logging, and coordinating UAV operations. They have a strong focus on providing value for their pilots, which manifests in the usability of their platform and the fact that they allow for unlimited logging of hours.
Search for drone jobs at Aloft here.
Matternet is a UAV manufacturer that builds world-class flying vehicles and intelligent software. They developed the Matternet One, the first smart drone made exclusively for transportation. In 2016 Matternet partnered with Mercedes-Benz “to create the integrated delivery solution that will transform how people receive lightweight goods on demand.”
Search for drone jobs at Matternet here.
Measure was founded to help businesses avoid the operating risk and capital expense associated with running one’s own internal drone operations. Measure offers cost-effective mapping and aerial imaging solutions for customers worldwide.
Search for drone careers at Measure here.
Parrot makes some of the best drones on the market. Their Bebop drone is always a favorite in lists around the web, and the 2.0 version is even more robust than the original, with 25-minute battery life and powerful motors for flight in greater altitudes. Parrot also designs, develops, and markets consumer products for smartphones and tablets other than consumer UAVs and drones.
Search for drone jobs at Parrot here.
Pix4D is a commercial leader in photogrammetry software. Founded in 2011 with years of scientific research, Pix4D software uses images taken by hand, drone, or plane and creates customizable results that complement a wide range of applications and software.
Search for drone careers at Pix4D here.
senseFly is a Parrot-owned company founded in 2009 by a team of robotics researchers and is an industry leader in mapping drones. Their data collection and processing tools are employed by customers around the world in fields such as surveying, agriculture, GIS, industrial inspection, mining, and humanitarian aid.
Search for drone jobs at senseFly here.
SLANTRANGE produces accurate, calibrated, multispectral sensors and an advanced analytics suite for drone-based imaging in agriculture. Their unique approach allows users to fly at only 20% overlap, process imagery in ~10 minutes after landing without a network connection and produces a unique set of data products that go well beyond NDVI, such as true plant counts, weed maps, canopy closure, yield potential, and custom spectral filters with Smart Detection.
Search for drone careers at SLANTRANGE here.
Wingtra is the world’s leading VTOL drone producer for mapping, survey, and mining industry professionals. Their WingtraOne drone takes off and lands like a multicopter, but flies in the air as a fixed-wing aircraft. This technology eliminates the risk of damaging the aircraft while landing, lets the drone carry heavier and thus better sensors, and still allows mapping of large areas. Since its market entry in early 2017, Wingtra has partnered with more than 50 of the biggest equipment dealers and has been selling mapping drones globally ever since.
Search for drone pilot jobs at Wingtra here.
Zipline is one of the biggest startups using drones to provide medical equipment and services to remote areas. In 2017 they delivered over 7,000 units of blood to people living in rural areas of Rwanda through a partnership with UNICEF and the Rwandan government.
Want to find more drone pilot job opportunities in the drone industry?
Every day people are posting drone jobs and jobs at companies in the drone industry—use our jobs search tool to help you look for work throughout the industry.