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Looking for a job as a drone pilot? Or just wondering what types of jobs there are in the drone industry?
We created this resource to help you navigate drone industry jobs. On this page you’ll find information on the types of drone pilot jobs out there, industries using drones in their work, some examples of compensation and salaries, and actual job listings.
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 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 below video is a great place to start, but please check out more information below.
In the list 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:
Lately drone pilots have been providing realtors with a perspective that was never possible before. Using aerial stills, videos, and even 3D maps created from data captured by drone, potential buyers can now get a comprehensive view of the property they’re thinking about buying.
Real estate marketing work is often done by a single drone pilot working as a freelancer to capture aerial stills and video of a property that’s for sale, which the realtor will then use in promotional materials.
Another typical 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.
Real estate marketing work as a drone pilot requires skills in both flying and in video / photography work. For a typical real estate 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 2 Pro 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 pilots are helping these industries 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 of a site to collect information.
Drone pilot work in these industries is sometimes done in-house by drone pilots who work full time for the company, but companies are also hiring freelancers to do inspections and surveys, and to create 3D and orthomosaic maps (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). 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 do this kind of work 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 drone made for industrial scenarios for this kind of 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 2 Pro. 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 drone pilots are starting at about $50 an hour for this type of 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.
More and more we’re seeing 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 work to be found for drone pilots in the film industry.
From what we’ve been told by drone pilots working in the entertainment industry, most of the film work out there for drone pilots will be 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 film work will probably require you to live in an area like Los Angeles, 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 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 2 Pro. (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 2.0, 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 aerial videography work, 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 1500 public safety agencies using drones. This number is nearly double that found in mid 2018, and it looks like it will only continue to grow.
In fire departments, fire fighters 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 using drones in public safety work can vary greatly depending on the specific use case. For example, a fire fighter in California told us that drones can be helpful in locating people who fall of 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 (for example, Tom Agos of the Gurnee Police Department told us that his department uses a Phantom 4 in their operations).
When it comes to software, DroneDeploy is a good option for creating orthomosiac 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 work is relatively straight forward 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 drone 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 2 Pro, 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 $35,000 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.