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Drone Pilot Jobs Guide by Industry
A Guide to Finding Drone Pilot Jobs
Are you looking for drone flying jobs or wonder what drone industry jobs are out there? We have created this guide to help you find out about all the drone operator jobs available. You’re going to get information about the types of drone flying jobs that are out there, which industries use drones, and get examples about drone pilot jobs salary options.
Let us ask you a question first: Why are you currently here? Are you:
- A drone hobbyist?
- A drone pilot who wants certified drone pilot jobs?
- Not a drone pilot at all but curious about non-pilot opportunities available within the drone industry?
This page can help you focus on the jobs available within the drone industry and is suitable for non-pilots and pilots alike.
Real Estate Drone Jobs
Lately, drone pilots are helping realtors get an airborne perspective that has never before been possible. Using videos, aerial stills, and 3D maps created from drones, potential buyers can get a better view of the property they want to buy.
Typically, these real estate drone jobs are done by a single freelancing drone pilot to capture videos and stills of a for-sale property. The realtor uses this for promotional materials.
You’re going to need drone flying skills, as well as knowing how to handle videos and photography. Generally, you arrive at the property to get the coverage, go home, and then work on the material until you’ve got usable video and images to give to the client. This means you’ve also got to know how to deal with post-production to turn it into something deliverable.
What You Need
You don’t require a high-end drone to be competitive and get real estate drone jobs. Most pilots use Mavic or DJI Phantom drones, which work fine.
However, you do need software for post-production aspects. This helps you process the video and image footage. Adobe Photoshop works well for images, and if you get the Premiere Pro version, you can edit your videos.
Most drone pilots who do real estate work get paid hourly. Rates can range from $25 per hour to $40 per hour. You may also consider setting a flat rate of $200 to $300 for the entire job. We recommend that you start off with lower hourly rates and grow that amount as you get better. Your location also plays a part. If you work in Los Angeles, you should have higher prices than if you work in the Midwest.
Where You Can Work As a Real Estate Drone Pilot
- Homes, housing developments, communities (residential)
- Business complexes, shopping centers, malls (commercial)
- Resorts, hotels, pools
- Golf courses
- Dude ranches
- Large estates
Drone Jobs for Mining, Construction, and Aggregates
If you want to work for the construction and mining industries, you’re likely searching for drone mapping jobs. Drone pilots help such enterprises by conducting surveys, so the companies save money. These surveys ensure that the businesses track stockpile locations, the volume of operations, safety conditions of various site areas, and progress on a project.
With a drone, these companies can survey large areas, process all the data with appropriate software, and know where the materials are and how they’re being used. Some drones can also help with planning by getting the aerial data and creating 3D maps. This way, construction companies understand where they can’t/can’t build, and mining businesses focus on the best/worst locations for storing and digging materials.
Without drones, information must be gathered by surveyors manually. They’ve got to walk through the site on foot, which isn’t as accurate and is more time-consuming. A person who has to walk might take several hours to do a job that a drone can do in 15 minutes. Plus, drones can go where it might be unsafe for a person.
You could effectively search for drone mapping jobs or drone inspection jobs within these industries. However, you should have some drone surveyor experience and must understand how to create the right outputs for your client. This could include various videos and photos on a specific location or a full orthomosaic map.
What You Need
Most people in these jobs want heavy-duty and tough drones that are made for industrial situations. Consider the DJI Matrice or Yuneec’s H520, as they’re both solid. Just note that you pay for excellence, so you may start out with a low-budget option like the Mavic or Phantom.
You’re also going to want the software to process the data you collect. If you need 3D maps, orthomosaics, and other similar outputs, DroneDeploy works well. Pix4D also offers various mapping options.
Based on the research, most drone pilots in construction and mining make roughly $50 an hour, but highly-skilled drone pilots can make up to $500 per hour based on skill levels, location, and the work required.
Where You Can Work as a Drone Inspector or Drone Mapper
- Safety monitoring
- Progress monitoring
- Monitoring stockpiles of various materials
- Pre-building inspections
Filmmaking Drone Jobs and Photography Options
Drone photography jobs can be a great option for creative people and those who want to break into the filmmaking industry. You’ve probably seen those sweeping aerial shots in television shows, documentaries, and regular movies. When using a drone, the producer can get footage like never before. While they were possible, they used to cost way too much because a helicopter had to be rented.
These UAV drone jobs help television and movie producers get aerial coverage of a particular location easily and quickly. Plus, drones don’t require the same insurance coverage as a helicopter. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to consider the film industry for your drone pilot career.
Most of the filming you do as a drone pilot is for a particular project. It’s a case-by-case situation. For example, one drone pilot could be brought onto the crew to get aerial shots of a chase or location. You probably aren’t going to be on the staff for the full shoot duration, but you might be. It just depends on the movie/show and the producer’s needs.
Your best bet for finding film work is to live in areas that produce movies, such as Los Angeles. Typically, you have to start out doing free work and network to get your name out there. That way, you develop a contacts list that can help you get a steady flow of proposals.
However, filmmaking drone jobs aren’t the only option out there. Drone photography jobs are also available for almost anyone who owns a drone. You can take aerial photographs of just about anything. Some people want them for their weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, and other scenarios.
Regardless of whether you help make films or take pictures, you are a freelancer who needs to build up a client list. To appear more professional, it’s best to get drone insurance. That way, your equipment is protected, and people are more willing to work with you as a freelancer.
What You Need
Typically, you need to have high resolutions and excellent quality, especially if you’re shooting scenes for movies or television shows. The same applies for photography or videos you create for special events.
Even so, you can probably use a Mavic or Phantom if you’re just starting out, though the ZenMuse X7 from DJI is created specifically to make movies.
As you progress and become better, you may want a higher-quality drone like the Spreading Wings or FreeFly Alta. That way, you can customize it and choose the best camera option for the shoot.
You’re also going to require post-production software. Edit the photos to make them look perfect or take the raw footage and turn it into something the film producer can use.
It’s also a good idea to consider training. While you may know how to fly the drone, you have to learn to fly, film, and think about what you’re doing. You can find many training options online or can practice at home to get better at your skills.
Filming movies and television shows can pay well, but it can be hard to break into the industry. Unlike other videography work, it can take years to create a client base. However, it’s much easier to shoot photos and videos for real estate or weddings, so you may want to consider drone photography jobs instead of filmmaker options. Typically, you can expect to make about $200 per hour, but this depends on the type of work and project.
You can choose to make it a flat rate, but this could backfire on you. If you always deliver professional results, have a portfolio, and access to past happy clients, you can ask for more. People are going to pay for quality.
Where You Can Work as a Drone Filmmaker
- Stock footage
- Scope or perspectives for particular scenes
- Aerial footage of fight, chase, and other action scenes
- Wildlife or wilderness shots
- Location-establishment shots
Where You Can Work as a Drone Photographer
- Birthday parties
- Bachelor/bachelorette parties
- Family reunions
Public Safety Drone Jobs
Right now, about 1,500 agencies use drones, and the number is growing. For example, fire departments use drones to gain better awareness during a fire. They can also use the drone to create an orthomosaic map of the schools and buildings where fires could happen. That way, it’s easier to see where the exit points are and protect people.
Law enforcement agencies also use drones similarly to create maps of high-traffic buildings. This way, people can be evacuated quickly during an emergency. These include floods, severe storms, and active shooter scenarios.
Both fire departments and police stations use drones after severe weather to locate people who need help and to determine the damages. This way, it’s easier to direct resources to the areas that require it most.
The drones can be used for almost any emergency situation that arises. For example, firefighters can hire drone operators to locate people who have fallen off a cliff. The rescue workers don’t have to be lowered on a rope and risk their lives. Instead, the drone goes down there and makes sure that’s where the victim is located.
Generally, you only need to know how to fly the drone professionally. However, there could be times where you must use aerial thermography to locate anyone in burning buildings.
What You Need
Most public safety agencies use less expensive drone options like the Mavic Air or Phantom 4. You don’t require heavy-duty commercial drones for this job. In fact, you may not need to buy a drone. If these agencies already have the equipment, you might be hired on an as-needed basis to use the equipment and help rescue people.
Software could come in handy, such as when you need an orthomosaic map to see a traffic accident or where an emergency evacuation may be required. You can use DroneDeploy for that; just fly over the site, take your pictures, and upload them into the software. Typically, the agencies you work with have the software necessary, too.
Most of the drone work for public safety agencies happens in-house. Therefore, you have to be employed by the agency itself to work with it. This gives you the equipment and software needed for any situation. You can research your area’s police officer or firefighter salary to determine how much you are going to get paid.
While some agencies do use freelancers, they rarely have the money to pay significant amounts. In fact, you may be asked to work pro bono to help save lives.
Where You Can Work
- Creating training materials
- Pre-fire planning
- Emergency deliveries
- Real-time situational awareness (hazardous materials and bombs)
- Traffic management
- Accident reconstruction
- Evaluating damages after a disaster
- Search and rescue
- Crime scene mapping
Insurance Drone Jobs
There are countless unmanned aircraft jobs in the insurance industry. Generally, insurance companies see many claims for damage after bad weather in a particular area.
To assess the claims in the past, these companies had to send out an adjuster or inspector to go to the site, get on a ladder, and take plenty of pictures. However, this is time-consuming and highly dangerous.
Drones can be used for insurance inspections. When you use a UAV, the pilot flies a set pattern over the damaged roof or area in about 30 minutes and gets enough images to evaluate the homeowner’s insurance claim.
Typically, this work is straightforward and is actually in high demand. These commercial drone jobs are just one of many that you can find. If insurance is your thing or you like helping people, you can work with insurance companies to ensure that everything is done right.
The only skill set you really need is the ability to fly your drone or program it to go to a specific location. Then, collect the images while you’re flying.
What You Need
You’re likely to be a freelancer here, as most insurance companies don’t require a full-time drone operator. Therefore, you need your own equipment and must maintain it. The images you must capture don’t usually have to be very high-quality, so you can use a typical drone here. Just make sure that the company you work for is okay with the images the drone can produce.
Likewise, you’re going to need software to get the images off the drone and sent to the insurance company. You aren’t doing post-production work, so you can probably use what came with the drone. Hook the drone up to a computer, download the images you took, and send it to the insurance company.
Some companies might want you to process the data you receive into a map. This does require you to have a platform, such as Pix4D or DroneDeploy.
As a drone pilot who does insurance-related work, you can charge up to $140 per hour. However, most people want a flat rate of $70 per mission. Also, you have to be careful about money because this is often seasonal work. You’re only working a lot when there’s a big storm. While there may be tons of work during certain times, it could dry up at others. Be aware of your state’s weather patterns and watch the news to determine when the weather is likely to be bad.
Where You Can Work as an Insurance Drone Pilot
- Post-disaster inspections (hail, storms, hurricanes, etc.)
- Aerial chimney, foundation, and building feature inspections
- Roof damage inspections
- Aerial inspections of ground features (pool damage, auxiliary buildings, etc.)
Journalism Drone Jobs
Drones have become an excellent tool for journalism needs. Aerial shots can help people understand the extensiveness of the flood damage in an area, see how large a crowd is, or determine how far a wildfire goes.
Typically, drones in journalism give people more vantage points to tell a story. Aerial video and stills footage adds more layers to the drama for news stories and the like. As with films, drones are cheaper than helicopters, so almost any journalist can use them.
One thing you should be aware of, though, is the spectrum of cases where you can use drones. You also have to be mindful of the quality necessary. For disaster and breaking news coverage, you need a good camera, but you’ve also got to be able to get to the location quickly.
It might be helpful to have a customizable camera so that you can get the best shots for artistic stills and documentary needs.
The skill-sets required can also vary based on the case and what you’re doing. If you’re a documentarian, you should know a lot about photography and videography, but you may not need the skills for breaking news coverage needs. Regardless of your niche, you need top-notch flying skills. You could be flying in difficult situations or under pressure and only have that one chance to get the best shot.
What You Need
In general, you want the best drone you can possibly buy. However, those in breaking news journalism can often get away with a Mavic Pro. If you need stunning images for documentaries or print stories, a high-end model is typically best. You probably don’t need something designed for making movies, but you can choose them for the visual quality they provide. Otherwise, go with something that allows you to customize the camera you use.
You’re going to need some type of photo processing software, and maybe a video tool. Even if you choose photography, there could come a time where you make videos and sell them to news stations. Therefore, be prepared with Photoshop for pictures or the light version if you rarely need to do much to the images. The Adobe Premiere Pro works well for video editing.
Most people are already journalists who work as photographers, anchors, videographers, or in another role. You can freelance, but it is quite hard to find work, especially if others at the news station are journalism drone operators.
The average salary for a journalism major is roughly $35,000 a year. The location you work in determines how much you make. Large cities pay more than smaller ones. Plus, you may need various skill sets and educational backgrounds.
If you can make it as a freelance journalism drone pilot, you can expect to earn about $400 for a news-based project for four hours of work. Typically, this breaks down into $100 an hour.
Where You Can Work as a Drone Pilot in Journalism
- Breaking news – filming buildings that are collapsing, active shooter scenarios, hostage situations, and other events
- Disaster reporting – filming floods, fires, hurricanes, storms, tornadoes, and others
- Documentary work – Cityscape work, wildlife and landscape work, and other scenarios where you tell a story from an aerial perspective
- Traffic reporting – aerial footage of accidents and traffic
- Photojournalism – artistic and high-quality video and stills to tell a story
- Investigative reporting – using drones to collect specific info for a story, such as labor conditions within a factory
Agriculture Drone Jobs
For the last few years, farmers have been utilizing drones to help boost yields. They can survey the crops and see where more attention is necessary. It’s much easier to use a drone than walking the farm on foot. Plus, it’s faster and more accurate.
The most common thing a drone pilot offers the farmer is the NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) map. These maps are used to determine which plants are growing on a piece of land and how well it’s doing there.
Appropriate software is needed to process the data collected by the drone pilot. That way, reports can be generated for farmers warning them about potential problems and what actions might help to rectify the situation.
While the potential for drones to boost crop yields is significant, its adoption has been quite slow to come about. Many farmers are uncertain about the value that drones represent in their work.
Still, the work that you do as a drone pilot in agriculture is straightforward. Typically, you cover a lot of ground and gather enough data to create a map. However, you don’t need any specialized skills beyond flying safely and well because the software does everything else.
The challenge you face in this field is selling yourself to the farmers. You’ve got to convince them that your work increases yields, and they are going to make more by spending some on you. With time, drone usage is going to be the norm for precision agriculture, and the challenges are going to go away. However, now, it’s an issue. If you can break into it, you’re sure to beat out the competition and make plenty of money.
What You Need
You can find drones made especially for agricultural work. The one from Bluegrass Fields features a multispectral sensor to record crop images in various bands. With the purchase, you get the software to fly autonomous paths, allowing you to program the drone to pass the same pattern over the crops. Though Bluegrass Fields is an excellent choice, there are others that work well.
Software is a little trickier, as you’ve got to find options focused on agriculture. AgEagle is a niche platform designed to process drone data in various agricultural applications. However, you can find other software choices, too.
Agriculture drone pilots can make between $40 and $150 per hour. However, these numbers are from the top pilots out there. Some pilots get paid more or less based on skills and other factors. If you can find a way to demonstrate the value of drone work in agriculture, you could make significant amounts of money. However, this could be seasonal work, so it’s best to learn when crops grow in your area and do plenty of research.
Type of Work You Can Do
- Create orthomosaic maps to help track turf management within the field
- Create NDVI maps to help track the crops’ health in a field
- Conduct studies from drone data on the health of plants and specific conditions
- Create floodplain and drainage maps to help farmers understand runoff concerns and how to divert pesticides
Drone Jobs in Transportation
If you want a job in transportation as a drone operator, now is the time. It’s continuing to grow. Back in 2018, one study showed that 35 states used drones in some way. Since then, more states are using drones and incorporating them into the regular activities performed by that state’s DOT.
Drones can help to cut down the costs and time required for inspections. Critical infrastructure needs to be monitored, but it is dangerous to send crews to those areas. Similarly, railroads are also using drones to inspect the lines. This used to happen manually; an inspector had to walk the track and note irregularities and where they occurred. With a drone, the inspection is done faster and gives more accurate information.
To perform this type of work, you need to know what these inspections include and what to look for. That means you have to get plenty of coverage of the inspected assets. These can be roads, bridges, and railroad ties. This way, the problem areas are identified by the data you’ve collected.
Because software is developing at a rapid pace, it’s often easy enough to upload your raw images and let the software tell you what problem areas there are. It just means you’ve got to have the right software for this task.
What You Need
Various drones are used for transportation inspections, and they come at many price points. You want something reliable, but low-cost options can include the Mavic Pro, Yuneec, and Phantom. Then, you can move up in price as you upgrade your equipment and become better at what you do.
If you can afford it, the Falcon 8+ from Intel is excellent. However, there’s no listed price because each drone is customized to meet your needs with various features and add-ons.
You’re primarily going to be mapping, so you need software that works well for this. Options include DroneDeploy, Pix4D, and Agisoft.
Drone pilots performing transportation inspections can expect to make roughly $100 an hour. However, a spotter is often required for these types of jobs, so you are splitting the pay with someone else. If you run an aerial service company, you can charge additional fees to cover your expenses. These commercial drone jobs pay well and often take one to two hours to complete. Workflow depends on the area you live in, as large cities are going to need more inspections than a small one.
Types of Transportation Work You Can Get as a Drone Pilot
- Monorails – survey and inspect the rails, concrete support beams, and other components
- Railroads – inspect the tracks and railroad ties to find problems before they get worse
- Rivers – survey rivers regularly to prevent roadway damage and flooding
- Roads – use drones to reduce risks of landslides, flooding, and rockslides
- Bridges – inspect support beams, bridge decks, girders, and other components
Drone Jobs for the Energy Sector
Similar to drones for transportation needs, drone operators can also inspect solar panels and power lines inexpensively and quickly. You are likely to work directly with an energy company as a freelancer. In the past, the FAA prohibited BVLOS flights, but now it is letting energy companies conduct them. Therefore, large areas get inspected quicker in less time.
These BVLOS waivers are slowly trickling out to the energy companies throughout the nation. The first one was issued to a company in Denver, Colorado. Once the work there was completed, the FAA released waivers to other companies.
Though the process is still happening, you can check with your local energy company to see if it has a waiver. If so, you could freelance and inspect its power lines to help the business save money.
You’re going to need some technical knowledge so that you know what’s required to inspect solar panels, power lines, and energy-related infrastructure. Typically, these inspections are used to find areas that require maintenance. That way, any problems are recognized early and can be addressed.
To handle solar panel inspections, you should have aerial thermography knowledge. This may also be needed for certain power lines. Consider that power lines can transmit magnetic interference, which could fry the flight controller or make it hard to fly in those areas. Stay about 100 feet away from power lines while performing aerial inspections and don’t pass between the lines if possible.
What You Need
Since you have to stay far away from the power lines and may need close-ups, you should have a camera that allows you to zoom in. You can find drones that are marketed for power line inspections, and they use ferromagnetic protection features. The Phantom 4 Pro is an excellent option, but the Matrice 200 is high-end and resists all magnetic interferences.
You also require appropriate software to help you process the data you collect or map the area.
Most of the time, you’re going to be a freelancer and can expect to make $100 an hour, but this is based on the location, your travel time, and your skill level. It could be hard to get into the field, as most energy companies want in-house pilot teams that are trained. If you can get this type of job, expect to make between $70,000 and $100,000 a year based on location, experience level, and how often you work.
Types of Drone Jobs in Energy
- Wind turbines
- Power lines
- Solar panels
- Infrastructure to any of the above
There are many jobs for drone pilots out there. We’ve discussed many of them, but the fact is that almost any company and situation could benefit from a drone. Now that you have a better idea of what’s available, you can come up with other options and break into the field of drone usage.
You need the right experience, and some of these jobs are specialized. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn. If you know how to fly a drone and use the software relating to the field, you have a great chance to earn a decent living. Just make sure that you’re not selling yourself short and know what you’re worth. That also means knowing how to market yourself in certain situations.