With 2025 expected to find the drone business at a whopping $63.6 billion, things can only get better for drone pilots.
Provided you have the passion for perfecting your craft, there are many opportunities to exploit.
A lot of new aspiring drone pilots focus on the gear, forgetting that drones are regulated by the FAA, and there are some things you need to do before you are allowed to fly commercially.
For instance, you’ll need a part 107 license in the US.
So, ensure you take your test, pass it, and get your license, then you can start figuring out what to do next with your skills.
Getting the licensing also means you need to follow the rules of flying, and apply for waivers when you need special clearances.
This guide takes you through a list of the best-paying jobs for drone pilots. Check out the different applications, what salary to expect, and what you need to start.
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How Lucrative Is the Drone Business?
You’re probably wondering, “is it worth starting a drone business?”
Starting a drone business is like starting any other company. What audience are you targeting? How are you helping them, and what prices suit your services while remaining competitive?
This business is highly lucrative thanks to the many people needing drone services like realtors, farmers, contractors, security teams, and more.
ZipRecruiter highlights that yearly drone pilot salaries in the US average $64,057, equating to $31 per hour. However, some pilots earn almost thrice as much at $183,500.
There are many sites to seek drone piloting jobs like Upwork, where some of the highest-paid individuals earn $150 an hour.
Doing wedding shoots with your drone could make you this much or even as much as $700/hr.
Real estate is one of the go-to options for new drone pilots, and it pays fantastic too. You can earn up to $400 an hour.
A standard video shoot could see you making $600 to $3,150.
How to Make Money With a Drone: Drone Business Ideas
There are many profitable drone business ideas, provided you have a good drone and the right skills. You can even begin as a hobbyist as you film and upload your flights to YouTube.
That said, here are the top drone business avenues to rip big.
Mapping, 3D modeling, and drone imagery offer construction personnel immense benefits.
The simplicity of assessing equipment using drones and 3D modeling can aid in making inspections more frequent and able to cover dangerous and challenging spots.
Construction companies can assess the progress of their sites with frequent updates and easily monitor different sections of the site.
Also, it helps ensure the security and durability of the equipment and workers on site.
Thanks to the accuracy provided by 3D models generated through drone photography, construction personnel can calculate distance, areas, and volumes.
Drones can also show potential challenges allowing teams to handle issues before they escalate into mega profit-eating messes.
Now, there are two ways you can get started in this.
For starters, if you are already in the construction industry, you can include drones in your workflow. What you need to do is find out the tasks that would be made easier by drones, and test to see how drones would help.
This is easier since, with a construction background, you will know what to expect, and you can even improvise to make drones more useful.
Another way to do it is to start a specialized drone business.
Here, you don’t need to have a background in the construction business.
What you need to do is gather all necessary hardware and software related to drones that are applicable in the construction industry, and start offering services.
While some construction companies may choose to design their own drone program, some may choose to hire a third-party drone company, and that’s where you come in.
A lot of beginner pilots venture into photography, but if you have the budget for it, set yourself apart from the rest by choosing the construction route.
Event Professional Photography
Drone photography skills apply to many areas when it comes to events.
Maybe, the event host wants to enhance their security. So, you can use your drones to scan the grounds for potential security breaches.
You may be asked to capture the event as it goes down. Aerial photos and video can add a dramatic effect to the memories captured.
However, events that want you to capture the proceeding typically need a complete package. So, you can collaborate with a ground photographer or learn the skills.
Additionally, drones can display brand logos or light shows during events like celebrity concerts. Some can also use them for marketing themselves by having drones carry billboards in areas with much exposure.
Event photography and videography are pretty big right now, and one of the easiest ways to start a drone business.
All you need is a good drone (such as the DJI Air 2S or the new Mini 3 Pro), photography and videography skills, and a good marketing strategy (more on this later).
Since a lot of people are already doing it, you will need to set yourself apart from the rest.
Shooting real property that’s up for sale is one of the simplest ways to get started with a drone business.
Unlike applications like survey, mapping, and agricultural inspection, real estate drone photography gigs are relatively easier to find.
Although 2022 began with a slight drop in home sales, monthly figures are still over five million in the US, providing an affluent market.
Not to mention, the requirements for real estate photography may not be as demanding as in other fields.
Once you have a drone with good battery life, an excellent camera, and one that offers a good range and flight stability, you’re set.
Meanwhile, areas like mapping need thermal sensors, while a drone used for fertilizer application demands much work to reload, refill, and more.
If you’ve ever seen a real estate commercial, chances are you’ve identified some drone shots.
Therefore, get yourself a good camera drone (which can cost less than $2000), and start practicing.
Secondly, reach out to local real estate companies and individuals and offer to do their drone shots for free to build your credibility and even bring in referrals.
In the events and real estate business, offering ground shots helps too.
Therefore, invest in a good camera, and sell your photography and videography services as a full package.
Surveillance, Security, Plus Search and Rescue
Military and security teams are amongst the biggest adopters of drone technology.
Drones can help border patrol to assess and deter illegal crossings. They can also help in surveying areas prone to high crime rates.
During natural disasters, drones can help track the unfolding events faster. This way, they help in the timely reaching of some victims before succumbing to the conditions.
Another excellent drone business opportunity is using these UAVs as assets to the security detail of VIPs.
Additionally, they can help protect large companies from unwarranted access by timely identifying individuals before they enter and cause harm.
Anyone can do surveillance with drones nowadays as long as they are a good pilot, and can get a drone and payloads such as high-res cameras, infrared sensors, and motion sensors.
But for larger surveillance drones weighing more than 55 pounds, you will need special clearances.
However, getting into surveillance is not the easiest thing.
For starters, drone surveillance is often frowned upon.
Secondly, you could be violating other people’s privacy since drones have the ability to capture a huge radius from a few feet above the ground.
But as long as you do it while following the laws, it’s a good business opportunity.
A good example of a company that has done this is Nightingale Security.
They show how drones can be used for emergency response, covering spots that ground cameras didn’t cover, and even tracking an intruder as you wait for ground tactical teams.
General Photography for Film and Stock
Licensing your footage is another excellent way to start a drone business.
There are many places like pond5, Videoblocks, and Shutterstock where you can post your footage. People can buy your material on these sites, and you’ll get a percentage of the proceeds.
However, many of these stock agencies for licensing your footage can only get you so far. It isn’t the best business model. Consider creating your website and working on your search engine optimization.
You can sell your videos in 1080 and as a 4k version with different price categories.
When it comes to photos, clients can pick whether they want a raw picture or a JPEG. So, you also get to have different prices for how you distribute those images.
Mapping and Survey
Drone surveying is becoming more popular, given its accuracy, timeliness, and ability to survey large tracts of land within a short time.
Since drones allow task completion up to 90% faster than manual surveys, it isn’t challenging to land a job provided you know your way around.
Some excellent drone ideas within this niche include:
- Urban planning
- Slope inspection and landslide mitigation
- Volumetric measurements that calculate the stocks in quarries
- Precise distance measurements
- Land management and construction of utilities and infrastructure
- Generation of cadastral maps
Read more about the best drone mapping software
Agriculture provides many drone business opportunities like:
- Plant counting
- Assessing crop health
- Determining losses due to erratic weather
- Establishing water requirements
- Figuring out the effectiveness of pest, disease, and weed control
- Establishing the height and leaf area of plants
- Application of fertilizer and insecticides
With drones, farmers save the time needed to do most of these activities, which is why they’re gaining increased popularity.
Drone applications in agriculture should rise by $5 billion within a decade, based on 2020 research. Vast growth means more opportunities and better
To get started in this business, right off the bat, you need to make a huge investment.
A good agricultural drone, such as the DJI Agras T30 costs roughly between $8000 and $10,000.
Secondly, besides the Part 107 (which you must have), you also need the Part 137 certificate, as well as follow the regulations that come with it. You may also need to apply for waivers from the FAA.
This is more so if you’ll be using the drones to spray herbicides and pesticides.
But if you’re not planning to spray, or are waiting for the Part 137 certificate, you can attach sensors, spreaders, RTKs, and other necessary payloads and partake in agricultural activities.
As long as you keep your drone under 55 pounds, and are not spraying, you will not need any special clearances, and you’ll be able to offer much-needed services in your locality.
For these, you’ll need an excellent thermal camera. With superb gear picked, you can expertly conduct things like pipeline and roof inspections.
More entities are opting for aerial inspections, thanks to the swiftness and safeness of drone inspections, ensuring increased opportunities for drone pilots.
The main advantage of drones in inspections is timeliness.
Moreover, drones allow for assessing tall or dangerous equipment while ensuring human safety.
Now, if you’re starting out as a drone pilot, starting an inspections business may not be the best idea.
That’s because, besides flying a drone, you also need to know what to look for during an inspection, the various software, and the outputs expected.
As such, this idea is best suited for a company offering inspection services, an individual with a background in doing inspections, or a general contractor who wants to add drones to their workflow.
How to Start a Drone Business
Starting your drone nav business has four major requirements.
- Do you have the skills?
- Is your equipment suitable for your desired jobs?
- Have you registered your equipment?
- Do you have the licenses required?
Drone Lessons, Equipment Selection, and Gear Registration
Take your drone classes and pass your exams, then think about what you’ll like to do before grabbing your drone.
One thing about drones is there’s never one drone that fits all applications. For instance, a drone that’s excellent for event shoots may not be as good for mapping.
Know the differences between toys and tools.
Especially for regular footage capturing and photos, you may end up with a crappy camera if you value affordability over quality.
Proceed by getting your drone registered.
The best drones for camera work are often beyond the 250g threshold, past which they need registration in the US and Canada. Provided your drone has a camera, you’ll need to register it in the UK.
So, ensure you sort out that first, as failure attracts enormous penalties.
The FAA could charge you as much as $27,500 for civil incidents. If deemed a criminal offense, you could serve three years and pay $250,000.
After you get your new drone all set up, take it out and practice as much as you can.
Many people are into the drone business. So, you need to perfect your skills to obtain smooth cinematic shots. Try flying your drone without automatic features.
Familiarize yourself with the rules.
See where you can fly and how to decide where to fly from the FAA. There are tons of apps to help you do this, such as Kittyhawk and Airmap.
Once you pick a secure spot to conduct your practice, have as much fun as possible while perfecting your acquired skills.
Taxes, Marketable Niches, and Budgeting
So you’ve had tons of practice, you’re a great drone pilot, have all the equipment, and your Part 107. It’s now time to go into business.
Start by getting an employee identification number.
This way, you’re in a legitimate business and can pay taxes in accordance with the law, as well as deduct expenses from taxes.
For instance, you can deduct things like new propellers or when you accidentally break your drone from the tax.
Next, research and see what the need is in your area.
Finding the most marketable business opportunities is the simplest way to get your venture to proceed fast.
Secondly, as you have noted above, a drone is not of much use on its own, it works best when you combine it with another skill such as photography, surveying, construction, or inspection.
So, it would be good to find out which skill or background you already have, whether drones can be added to the workflow, and if there’s a market for it.
Then, make plans and budget.
You may think the drone is what’ll cost you the most, but there are many associated costs when running a business, like extra gear and accessories.
How Do I Get Clients for My Drone Business?
Obviously, you need to promote your business for you to get clients.
However, don’t make the mistake of having this as the first step. Once you identify the best drone company ideas within your locality, you must understand your clients.
Know the Market
What’ll help your clients make their business the most profitable? How’ll you save them money while ensuring you meet their needs better than your competition?
Meet with some individuals within the industry you want to venture into and familiarize yourself with their expectations. Next, you can start your portfolio while keeping the clients’ interests central.
Maybe, you can show them how you can achieve given assignments faster, saving them the time needed to decide.
Maybe, you can show them how you can achieve the same results as manual labor while minimizing the risks and charging less.
Advertising Your Services
Afterward, you can begin showing your talents on social platforms or on an SEO-optimized website. You can even decide to use both to get more reach.
If so, ensure you link them so that people can go through your samples and reach out to you easily.
A Vimeo or YouTube presence for your videos is also a top way to showcase your services.
Seek the Clients
Don’t pimp your socials and sit waiting for calls. Start by doing a few pro bono or free jobs for some realtors in your area to show what you can do and to build your portfolio.
Then join your local Chamber of Commerce, where you can network with businesses in your area.
There are always people who can link you to other companies; before you know it, you’re the first option for all aerial work within your field.
Cold calling and emails are other superb strategies. While many may ignore you at the start, there’s that client that’ll accept your service.
How much should I charge for drone services?
Reasonably price your services so they are not too low that you hurt your business and devalue your business, and not too high that clients won’t want to hire you.
As a beginner, don’t expect to be paid the industry’s standard rate. But with time, your value will increase if you keep improving your skills and work ethic.
– How much can you make with drone business?
You can make up to $1200 a day with a successful drone business.
How much you make depends on your connections, negotiation skills, type of work, quality, experience, and decorum.
That said, salaries vary immensely as many drone pilots do freelancing gigs. Still, you could earn hundreds of dollars provided you perfect your job hunting strategies.
– Is the drone business profitable?
The drone business is profitable with the potential to earn lots of cash. With the numerous applications available, you can’t fall short of ways to make some money.
However, a drone business is more than getting flying skills and a good drone. Understanding your area’s most lucrative drone business opportunities and client expectations within those niches is crucial.
– Can I make money flying a drone?
You can make a lot of money flying a drone. Some gigs can attract an upward of $1,000 a day. That means a week’s work is all you need to attain the US average monthly salary of around $5,800 with such a payment.
However, you can go for weeks without landing a job if you lack the right strategies.
– How much does it cost to start a drone show business?
While you can start a regular drone business with $2,000 or even less, a drone show business costs is a bit more expensive.
You need about $50,000 to $200,000 for a drone show business if you want sophisticated gear to create the most intricate 3D displays.
The technology’s newness explains its priciness.
There are many drone uses for business enterprises. So, concentrate on one or two things at a time and work toward perfecting your skills in those areas.
Do some research on your town and determine the demand, then figure out what you need.
Maybe, weddings are the goldmine at your place, or the real estate sector and construction are booming.
Once you have the most marketable areas, determine how the competition is and how you can stand out. Delivering impeccable quality is the only way to attract clients to work with you repeatedly and even get referrals.
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