Want to make six figures? Try being a drone pilot

Last updated on

August 27, 2018


Jobs that pay in excess of £100,000, are few and far between. You’ll either have to go to medical school for five years or land a job in the city. But with a little hard work and endeavour, you could join the six-figure a year club by becoming a freelance professional drone pilot.

Take Andrew Dean for example, after leaving his job in the U.S. Air Force he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. However, drones were something new, and Andrew always loved technology. So he took the plunge and invested in a Mavic Pro and some drone training. Today, the Colorado-based pilot is set to bring in around $200,000.

And Andrew is far from an isolated case, drone pilots across the world are building successful businesses by providing much-needed services to the construction, media and utility industries.

In the UK alone, the professional drone services industry is projected to be worth around £42 billion by 2030. All sectors of the economy, from health care to mining are set to benefit from the devices. So there is no time like the present to polish up your flight skills and start building a successful drone services business.

What’s the typical day of a drone pilot?

One of the best things about being a commercial drone pilot is that no two days are the same. Most commercial drone work is carried out by freelance contractors, who can be working for a multinational corporation one day and a small business owner the next.

Project lengths can also vary, you could end up working on a single job for many weeks or you might only be there for a few hours. The length of jobs you get will typically depend on the type of drone work you carry out.

Take construction, for example, you may get a contract to survey a construction site as work progresses. This will involve you visiting the site regularly to carry out inspection work. You may only be onsite for a few hours each time but this is regular work which will last for many months.

At the other end of the spectrum, you may get a contract with a commercial property broker who wants you to create a promotional video for a new office development. This job will only take you a day or so to carry out. But if you do a good job, will likely lead to more work in the future.

One thing is for sure, being a drone pilot will involve a lot of travelling between jobs. So you’ll need your own transport. The distance you travel will again depend on the work you choose to specialise in. But there is work out there for everyone, no matter where you live. People in the rural areas could choose to specialize in agricultural work, while people in large metropolitan areas could specialize in construction and surveying work.

How much money can you make?

Like any business, it will take time to build a list of contacts to enable you to bring home a six-figure salary. Set-up costs are also more than a traditional services business. As a professional drone pilot, you will need to have the right qualifications, licences and equipment in place before you start to earn any money.

To make the big bucks It is also important to specialize in one particular area of the business. In the case of Andrew Dean above, he chose to specialize in thermal imaging services. To capitalise on this type of work Dean invested in training to obtain all three levels of thermography certification.

But even when you start out a single job can net you around £450 for a few hours work. At a minimum, you should be charging £50 per hour for your services. Once you gain a little more experience and some qualifications you will be able to charge as much as £100 per hour. With rates like that it won’t be long before you join the six-figure salary club.

5 Tips Drone Business

But isn’t the market becoming oversaturated?

As drones become more popular, it is true that the competition for low skilled jobs will become more intense. But you don’t want to be building a business around low skilled work. To build a successful business you need to specialise in one particular area. That could be thermal imaging for agricultural yield analysis or building 3D images for construction projects, the choice is yours.

Becoming a professional drone pilot today also requires the operator to obtain a PfCO from the CAA. This is no simple task and it is not something that most consumer drone pilots will consider completing. Operating a drone for commercial purposes without holding a PfCO is a criminal offence. So don’t worry, you won’t be competing against every single person with a DJI Spark.

Start by earning a little money on the side

One of the best things about this business is that you don’t have to leave your job. You can start carrying out small jobs in your spare time. This will not only allow you to build up a list of valuable contacts, it will also allow you to build experience in an industry or sector. You could start by contacting local estate agents to advertise your services.

Another avenue you could explore is training other people to use their drones. With drones becoming ever more popular, this could prove to be a lucrative sideline. Many pilots have found success advertising their services on Airbnb Experiences.

Airbnb Experiences allows people to offer up their services to customers of the platform. You can offer any legal activity, from photography and surfing to flower arranging and drone lessons. Airbnb takes 20% of the fee, but hosts are able to set their own pricing. New York drone pilot Elena Buenrostro charges $100 for an hours lesson and can have up to 10 students a week during the busy tourist season.

Commercial Drone Training

The secret to making six figures flying drones?

Once you have a little experience under your belt you’re likely going to want to move on to the next stage and make a full time living out of it. But you won’t get rich carrying out the simple jobs you’re used to.

To earn a decent living you need to specialise. This could mean making use of a skill you already have such as being a surveyor or building inspector. But if you don’t have such a skill, don’t despair, you can always train for the skills you are missing.

Andrew Dean didn’t have any thermography certifications when he started, but that didn’t stop him from going out and getting some. This specialist qualification allows him to create IR inspection reports which can be used to identify problem areas of buildings and electrical systems.

There are many areas you can specialise in, all of which will have strong demand over the next five to ten years. Examples include creating digital terrain and elevation models, creating dense point clouds – which combine massive amounts of data over a complete project area – or carrying out thermal inspection reports.

What qualifications will you need?

To get your new drone business off the ground, you need to obtain a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) certificate from the CAA. this allows you to operate drones for commercial reward and obtain insurance coverage for your new business.

But obtaining your PfCO should only be regarded as the starting point of your training. To build a profitable drone business you need to expand your skill set to include a range of specialist drone and imaging technologies. At Coptrz we can provide a range of training to help you specialise and differentiate your new business.

Training courses include:

An introduction to BVLoS operations – This course will give you the skills and knowledge required to operate your drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight. You can then use this to apply for BVLoS approval from the CAA, which will greatly expand the range of services you can provide.

An introduction to 3D mapping – This course is designed for operators who want to make 3D maps and point clouds using Pix4D software. This type of work is quite popular in the construction and survey industry, so you’ll want to have the skills and knowledge required to take advantage of it.

OFQUAL Level 4 Accreditation – In addition to your NQE Recommendation, COPTRZ can also separately provide you with an academically registered qualification under OFQUAL (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) as a Level 4 award. That means if you choose COPTRZ as your NQE, you’ll have the option to receive a vocational Level 4 award recognised across the board by employers in many sectors. This represents a standard between an A Level and a degree (ONC/HNC level). This qualification is an additional extra.

Basics of Aerial Infrared Thermography – This 1-day workshop is aimed at teaching you the basics of aerial infrared thermography. The course is for anyone who wants to carry out thermal inspection work such as; solar inspection, search and rescue and electrical inspection. It is a great lead into professional Thermography Level 1, 2, 3 qualifications, which can lead to very lucrative work.

How will these courses benefit you?

All the above courses are specifically related to the operation of drones and will help differentiate your business from the competition. But you should also consider professional qualifications in the field you wish to enter.

For example, you won’t be able to get work on a construction site without having a valid CSCS card. The card you hold must be related to the work you carry out. So you can’t obtain a CSCS card for labouring and then start flying a drone around.

One solution is to obtain an NVQ Level 3 Diploma in Construction Contracting Operations – Surveying. Obtaining this qualification, along with your PfCO and related drone training, will ensure you have a steady stream of lucrative contracts in the construction industry.

If you would like more information about becoming a professional drone pilot or the course we provide get in touch with COPTRZ on 0330 111 7177 or contact us on the form provided. We look forward to hearing from you.

Get started with our handy guide

Download guide: 10 Profitable Opportunities for Drone Pilots

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