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.
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 or Mavic 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 budget, keep the discussion focused on 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 Inspire or the Mavic. 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 Inspire or even a Mavic. (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 or DJI’s Spreading Wings, 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.
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 mid 2018, there are over 900 public safety agencies using drones. This number is more than double that found in late 2016, 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 200. Instead, some police and fire departments opt for a less expensive DJI drone like the Phantom 4, or even the Mavic Air (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 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 fire fighter or police officer. These salaries vary greatly depending on your location.
According to this article on DiscoverPolicing.org, which drew from Bureau of Labor data from 2015, fire fighters 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 straight forward 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 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 or DJI’s Spreading Wings, 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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 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. The Bluegrass 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.
On the software side of things, Agribotix is a platform created specifically for processing drone data collected for agricultural applications. Depending on the type of mapping you want to do, there are several other 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.
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 Inspire are all good options. As you move up in price, DJI’s Matrice 200 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.
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 work 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 work as a drone pilot you’ll need technical knowledge of what is required in inspections for power lines, solar panels, and other energy-related infrastructure. In general, these inspections are conducted to find areas that need maintenance so that problems can be detected early and addressed—but again, as software develops this knowledge may become less and less crucial.
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 electro-magnetic interference power lines give off, you want to use a drone for power line inspections that has ferro-magnetic protection. DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro has pretty good ferro-magnetic protection (better than the Inspire 1 or 2, in fact). If you want to go a little higher end, DJI’s Matrice 200 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.
Knowing what to look for when doing these tower inspections and surveys is key for this kind of work.
In general, when doing these kinds of inspections drone 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 is a good option, because it has good ferro-magnetic protection, and DJI’s Matrice 200 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 you’re 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.
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, like this drone club at Taft High in Cincinnati, OH.
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. It can actually be pretty complicated to figure out which instances call for certification, and which don’t—our partner PCS Edventures has created a really help helpful infographic to help you figure out whether you might need to get certified.
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 two annual scholarships of $1,000 each 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 want your students to have a good camera drone that they can use to learn more about aerial cinematography, the DJI Phantom 4 is a solid, fairly inexpensive option, as are the DJI Mavic Pro and the Mavic Air.
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, the Zephyr flight simulator from Little Arms Studios is a good place to get started.
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 10,000 drone pilots for the test, and over 99% of our students pass on the first try.
4. Read up on the top 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 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 jobs that don’t necessarily require you to know how to fly.
Here’s the list:
3DR was founded in 2009 and is a pioneer in the drone industry. They make Site Scan, a complete drone platform that’s built specifically for construction and engineering teams. With Site Scan, users can fly with both 3DR and DJI drones, create and view high-res 2D maps and 3D models, scale drone operations across the enterprise, and use the data in Autodesk and GIS tools.
Agribotix 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.
AirMap’s cutting-edge technology transforms airspace below 500 feet to provide accurate, reliable, and trustworthy low-altitude navigational data and communication tools to the drone industry. Their software was developed by experts in GIS, aviation, and policy. AirMap collaborates with industry leaders such as DJI, Intel, senseFly, and others, sharing their data in the flying apps those companies provide.
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.
DJI is one of the top consumer drone manufacturers in the world. Their Phantom 40 Pro is a go-to drone for many new drone service providers. According to data provided by the FAA, DJI’s Mavic, Inspire, and Phantom series drones are among the most used purchased in the U.S. for commercial work.
Draganfly Innovations hand-makes their systems in North America. They produce drone systems that specialize in public safety applications, aerial photography, industrial inspection, and education/research.
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. DroneBase is the first drone service provider that DJI has invested in through SkyFund.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kespry manufactures drones made specifically for capturing, viewing, and analyzing aerial imagery and survey data. Their customers include aggregates, mining, construction and surveying companies.
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.
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.”
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 world-wide.
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 a 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.
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.
PrecisionHawk’s mission is to “build the airspace platform delivering better answers, faster while enabling safe, low altitude flight.” They provide user-friendly data collection tools to collect and process high-quality data. PrecisionHawk offers everything from data processing to 3D terrain mapping. Check out PrecisionHawk’s DataMapper, a software suite that converts UAV imagery into actionable information.
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.
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.
SkyWard is a flight operations management platform designed for drone operators. Their platform can be used for “solopreneurs” to to plan and track flights, and also for large teams to coordinate efforts. Check out this interview we did with Skyward Co-Founder Eric Ringer on how to run a commercial drone operation.
Uplift Data Partners captures and analyzes aerial data to deliver construction insights for project performance. The company operates one of America’s most experienced network of certified drone pilots over construction sites. Uplift drones collect 3D data accurately to five centimeters, preventing rework, which reduces waste and increases safety. Based in Chicago, the Uplift operates in almost 60 locations throughout the United States.
Yuneec first started innovating in the aircraft industry before creating the first commercially successful, ready-to-fly fixed wing RC airplane. Eventually, they transitioned into their increasingly popular aerial video quadcopters. They also sell a drone made primarily for commercial drone work called the H520.
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 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.