Your Career / Become a Professional Drone Pilot

The market for commercial drone operations is rapidly evolving. The latest innovations in hardware and software are enabling organisations from every sector imaginable to cut costs, complete tasks safely and expand into new markets. Everything from increasing the effectiveness of fire fighting resources during wildfires through to aerial photography to help sell homes can be achieved using a drone. This 5 Step Guide is designed to provide a road map on how you can become a professional drone pilot earning from $75 to $200 per hour.

Step 1: Getting Qualified

The first step to launching a career as a professional drone pilot is to attain a professional drone licence. Almost all developed countries have introduced a qualification process to ensure anyone planning to use a drone for commercial purposes is fully trained and qualified in the safe use of drones. Piloting a drone without the correct licenses can lead to fines ranging from $500 to $100,000.

Along with the safe use of drones it essential they are used in accordance with other laws and policies. These include data protection and civil rights. Using a drone in convention with local laws can also lead to a fine or even a prison sentence. Therefore it is essential to fully understand the legal requirements within your country and to obtain all the relevant qualifications and if necessary approval to fly a drone. Flying a drone close to government buildings or over peoples homes can lead to arrest and charges ranging from espionage through to harrassment. You must fully understand where and where you can’t fly a drone, this will come from the training you recieve and the laws within your country.

> For more information on how to become a qualified pilot check out our detailed drone pilot training guide.

Step 2: Insurance

Once fully qualified to undertake professional drone activities it also essential that you are fully insured. There are two forms of insurance, one is liability insurance and the second is drone hull insurance. Liability insurance covers any damage caused by the use of your drone and in some countries you are legally required to obtain liability insurance – Canada, for example requires a minimum of $100,000 liability insurance before commercial activities can be undertaken. Before undertaking any specific role it is important to ensure your liability insurance covers the market you are operating in and the intended use of the drone. For example, you may only be insured for flying a drone away from built up areas and during certain hours of the day. To protect yourself from any problems when claiming against your insurance it is essential to read the small print and understanding the requirements your insurer requires. The second form of insurance is hull insurance, this form of insurance covers any potential damage caused to your drone and relevant equipment. Before purchasing hull insurance it is important that you fully understand how the insurance can be claimed should the worse happen. Should your drone be damaged you maybe able to use photographic or witness evidence to support your claim. However, there are also specialist drone insurance companies available on the market who use monitoring apps to record the drones flight, recording how the damage is caused. Some constomers may require you to be fully insured so it important to make it clear on your website and your marketing material that you are fully insured – it could be the difference between having a thriving drone piloting business and being beaten by your competition.

> For more information on how insure your professional drone business check out our detailed drone insurance guide.

Step 3: Forming Your Drone Business

Before undertaking any form of commercial activity you need to be tax compliant. This typically involves forming a registered business and registering an annual set of accounts with your national tax authority. This may sound like a daunting task but most countries have business incorporation services who can help to form a registered business. Alternatively you can use a small accountancy firm to not only form the business but to complete your annual accounts. Before undertaking any of these steps it is important to produce a business plan. This should identify the potential markets available to you and your potential costs and revenue. Costs will include equipment, insurance and overheads. Revenue will primarily come from a mixture of single assignments and long-term contracted customers. The opportunities available to you are primarily based on your personal location. If you live in a city or large town these will predominantly include property, entertainment, transport and general photography. For more rural areas you may be limited to agricultural and energy contractual work. Therefore, your approach to attracting and keeping customers should be very different. In a large city such as New York or London you maybe working with different customers on a daily basis, whilst in rural areas you may have a long term contract outsourced to you on an irregular basis as and when your customer requires you to complete a task. Therefore, you should familarise yourself with account management techniques which are based on building long term relationships with specific individuals within a single organisation. When there are limited customers available to you losing a single customer could be very damaging to the success of your business.

You also need to fully understand the costs associated with launching your business and produce a financial forecast which identifies the revenue needed to generate a profit and how long it should to turn a profit.

  • Accountancy fees
  • Drones
  • Drone accessories – batteries, cameras, carry cases, spares
  • Clothing
  • Insurance
  • Laptop – internet access, specialist software
  • Marketing material – business cards, website
  • Office rent
  • Tax

When starting a drone business it is important to remember that you are starting a business and not letting your passion for drones to overrule your head. Setting up a registered business with the correct approval and documentation is essential if you want to take this opportunity seriously and create a business which can one day expand employ staff and attract large customers.

Step 4: Equipment

Once you become qualified and formed your business you can now look to invest in the equipment necessary to operate your business. For many people seeking to launch any business the concept of investing money is often the hardest part. However, as a drone pilot you can look to hire the necessary equipment as and when you need it. This can reduce the capital necessary to get started, making it easier to launch your business. If you are planning to do hire equipment it is important to ensure that the supply of equipment is reliable and fully insured. If you receive orders from clients but fail to find the necessary equipment then you lose customers much faster than it takes to find them! If you do have the necessary funds to purchase equipment then it is important to fully research what equipment you will need and have a plan and budget in place for how you will maintain the equipment and their value should you wish to sell on the second hand market to re-invest in new and more up to date equipment.

> For more information on how to successfully hire drone equipment check out our detailed drone equipment hire guide.

Step 5: Marketing Your Business

People’s views towards drones is often very personal, some may see them a nuisance whilst others may seem them a vital part of many industries. To overcome any obstacles to winning customers it is important to focus on the key purpose of any business: profit. Your marketing should focus on how the use of drones can help to reduce costs and reduce the time taken to complete tasks that are traditionally take much longer to complete without the use of drone technology – helping business to save money and make larger profits. You should also focus on how drone technology can help potential customers to expand their businesses into new markets. Convincing potential customers that you can save them time, money and provide them with opportunities makes your business a ‘no-brainer’. Helping you to convince business of all shapes and sizes and in all markets that they should hire you!

> For more information on how to market your professional drone business check out our detailed professional drone marketing guide.