How to Become a Commercial Drone Pilot

New professions have emerged to meet the shifting technological and economic demands of numerous industries as the gig economy expands globally. One such job is that of a commercial drone pilot.

Key Takeaways

New professions have emerged to meet the shifting technological and economic demands of numerous industries as the gig economy expands globally. One such job is that of a commercial drone pilot.

A report from Research and Markets estimates that businesses from a variety of industries will spend over $16 billion on drones and drone-related services. This will fuel the market for drone services and lead to the creation of 100,000 new jobs by 2025.

But you may find yourself asking what exactly you have to do to become a commercial drone pilot. This guide is all you need because we cover everything from applying for a license to obtaining certification. So let’s get started.

As more and more amateurs and professionals take to the skies, drones are becoming mainstream. It's tempting to want to turn your hobby into a career if you enjoy flying drones.

Drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), are a prime example of disruptive technology. In the past ten years, they have advanced significantly and are now widely utilized in a variety of sectors, including: 

  • Filmmaking 
  • Real estate
  • Law enforcement
  • Agriculture
  • Photography
  • Journalism
  • Mining
  • Gas and electric utilities
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Commercial use of your drone may allow you to recover your investment if you plan to buy a drone and use it to take pictures. However, a Part 107 certificate is required if you want to use your drone to sell any pictures or earn money in any other way. 

Unmanned aircraft operators or drone pilots have a wide range of potentially lucrative opportunities available to them if they earn a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate and some drone flying experience. 

What is the best course of action to follow if all of this excites you in order to get to the point where flying a drone can be a full-time source of income? This article will explain to you what a drone pilot does, and how he can make money. We will also take you through all the steps on how to become one.

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Becoming a commercial drone pilot

This blog was written to serve as a guide for drone pilots who are just getting started and are interested in working in this exciting industry.

With commercial entities becoming more aware of the need to check for FAA approval when hiring a drone pilot, now is the time to get qualified and legal if you want to operate commercially.

To become a commercial drone pilot, you must meet certain requirements. To ensure that you are flying safely and legally, follow the easy steps we have outlined later in the article.

But first, let’s just quickly talk a bit about commercial drone pilots, types of drones, job responsibilities, and how much they make.

Suggested read: If you are planning on switching careers to get into commercial drone flying, you need to read our guide on how to afford a career change without struggling!

How do a drone, a UAV, and a UAS differ from one another?

An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is referred to as a UAV. Depending on the source, different terminology might be used. 

While the majority of mainstream media outlets use the term "drone," because it is more familiar to the average reader, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) frequently refers to drones as UAVs. 

These phrases are frequently used interchangeably.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems, on the other hand, are referred to as UAS. However, the term "UAS" encompasses more than just the aircraft. A UAS includes the entire system, including the pilot and steering, so the UAV is a component of the UAS.

So, what is a drone pilot exactly? 

An individual who controls an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is known as a drone pilot. Drones, especially multi-rotor "quadcopters," are becoming more and more capable of completing missions independently as drone technology develops. 

For example, a drone might be able to remain stationary for a predetermined amount of time (dependent on battery life) and carry out photography of a specific area.

A drone pilot is required to abide by the FAA's established and enforced airspace regulations. The FAA may require prior approval depending on the type of aircraft, the intended location, and the desired altitude.

A flying drone
Photo by Diana Măceşanu on Unsplash

How much does a UAV Drone Pilot get paid?

The average annual salary for a UAV Drone Pilot in the United States as of August 25, 2022, is $64,077. If you need a quick salary estimator, that comes out to be about $30.81 per hour. 

The average UAV commercial drone pilot salary right now is between $35,500 (25th percentile) and $69,000 (75th percentile), according to ZipRecruiter, with top earners (90th percentile) in the United States making $160,000 annually.

The wide variation in the average pay for a UAV Drone Pilot—up to $33,500—indicates that there may be numerous opportunities for advancement and higher pay based on experience level, location, and skill level.

How to become a drone pilot

We have outlined all the important steps you need to show you how to become a professional drone pilot. 

1. Buying your drone

You must learn how to fly a drone if you want to work as a professional drone pilot. You don't absolutely need a drone to learn how to fly one, as you can get some decent practice with a flight simulator. 

Eventually, however, you'll need to learn how to operate the actual thing, so getting your own drone should be on top of your priority list.

Instead of spending money on an expensive middle-of-the-road model that you will eventually have to upgrade, it definitely makes more sense to get a drone that you can grow into if you are determined to become a professional drone pilot. 

For instance, don't bother purchasing a Mavic Air if you intend to work in mapping and surveying because it lacks the kind of high-quality camera necessary for accurate mapping. 

Choose something like the Phantom 4 Pro or maybe the Inspire 1 instead. Even though it requires a somewhat heftier initial investment, you might as well start getting familiar with the tools of the trade so that when you're ready to launch your services, you'll be prepared.

Here are some excellent guides to help you pick a drone:

2. Practice, practice, practice

Start by practicing your basic flight skills if you've never flown a drone before or believe yourself to be a novice. Start with a few easy drills if you're genuinely anxious about piloting that pricey drone you just bought. 

You'll rapidly acquire confidence as you progress and become familiar with the functions of your specific drone. If you chose a more sophisticated drone, chances are it includes several features that will make flying it simpler. 

These basic skills are your first step to understanding drone control.

Once you've mastered the fundamentals, you can begin honing your more complex flight techniques. You must learn how to operate your controller properly, how your drone's flight capabilities and settings operate, and how to customize it to do whatever you want. 

Make sure to do this until it comes naturally. You might ultimately run out of ways to improve your skills and this is when taking a training course becomes necessary.

3. Take a professional training course

The difference between amateurs and professionals is that they have advanced training and certification, which is why they get paid better. There are numerous options available to you when it comes to receiving drone training. 

Of course, there are community colleges and even full-time colleges that offer courses in drone piloting. 

We recommend the following course because it not only equips you with the skills required for flying a drone commercially, it is focused on helping you pass the FAA Part 107 exam that will get you a license as a Certified Commercial Drone Pilot.

Course Title: Commercial Drone Pilot - Part 107 Made Easy

Institute: SUNY Broome

Type of Course: Online - On Demand Course

Duration: 2 Hours per week, 7 estimated weeks

Course Fee: $308.16 Total price (excluding tax)

Course Description: You can become a Certified Commercial Drone Pilot by passing your FAA Part 107 exam with the help of this course. By obtaining this certificate, you'll be able to use drone operations to make money. 

This online course offers limitless practice questions, an 11-page cheat guide, 13 hours of video content, and a test pass guarantee.

Since the beginning of the new millennium, your instructor for the course, Greg Reverdiau has worked in the aviation industry. Currently, Greg is a Certified Flight Instructor, a Commercial Pilot (single and multi-engine), and a Remote Pilot for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). 

Greg has held teaching positions as an adjunct professor and worked for two of the largest aeronautical universities in the nation (managing flight training programs with up to 500 students and 50 aircraft). Greg is presently focusing on developing online courses to teach the upcoming generation of manned and unmanned pilots.

4. Obtain a commercial drone pilot license

The FAA requires that you obtain a drone pilot's license before you are able to profitably operate a drone in the United States. In other countries, there are similar agencies that issue drone pilot licenses, though the process will differ depending on the agency and the country. 

While not insurmountably challenging, the process entails passing an Aeronautical Knowledge Test, which is often the most challenging phase. 

The knowledge test does call for some specialized information, so even if you've been flying drones for a while and are an expert pilot, it doesn't necessarily follow that you have the necessary knowledge to pass the test. 

Although the FAA offers free practice tests and study guides to assist you with getting ready for the Part 107 exam, you might find it challenging to navigate the language. 

To help you pass the Part 107 exam, enrolling in a training session such as the one we mentioned above will be well worth your time.

The FAA requirements for getting your commercial drone pilot's license are:
  • To operate a drone commercially you must be at least 16 years old. Get a driver’s license from the DMV.
  • Take and pass the Part 107 test, also known as the Aeronautical Knowledge Test (or Unmanned Aircraft General or UAG). To take the test in person, you must register at an FAA testing site. There are 60 multiple-choice questions on the exam.
  • You can then submit an online application for a Remote Pilot Certificate with the FAA after passing the test. Within a week or two of applying, you will receive a temporary certificate. Your permanent one will follow in 6 to 8 weeks.

Remember, that you must routinely renew your certification, just like with any other legal certification requirement. After obtaining your drone pilot license, there are a few more technical boxes to check off.

Additional requirements after getting your commercial drone pilot's license:
  • Your drone or drones must be registered. You must re-register your drone under the business rules if it was previously registered under the recreational regulations. Your drone registration must be kept up to date and renewed every 36 months. Keep your registration card on you at all times when you fly.
  • Your commercial drone pilot's license must be renewed every 24 months by passing the recurrent Aeronautical Knowledge Test (Unmanned General – Recurrent). Similar to the first test, but with 40 questions as opposed to 60, with a somewhat different emphasis. Additionally, it has to be taken in a physical testing setting.
  • When the FAA requests an inspection or test of your aircraft, you must provide them with your aircraft and all related documents.
  • If there are injuries or more than $500 worth of property damage as a consequence of an accident, you must notify the FAA within 10 days.
  • Have a preflight inspection protocol in place and maintain records of it to guarantee that your aircraft is safe to operate before each flight.
Man controlling a drone
Photo by Diana Măceşanu on Unsplash

5. Get an edge over the competition by getting more industry-specific training

You are ready to start making money once you have your professional drone pilot's license in hand (or in your wallet), but even if you have somewhat good drone flight skills, it will be difficult to generate enough money as a drone pilot to support yourself unless you specialize. 

This step is optional but highly recommended. If you want to stand out amongst your competition, specialize. Additionally, switching to drone flying from another profession might seem like a daunting task but it becomes easy when you have guidance from the top people on a career change.

We highly recommend these three guides:

Coming back to drones, getting specialized training is essential for launching a successful career as a professional drone pilot. 

That doesn't mean that it must be expensive since there are many high-quality training options that can be found for a reasonable price. 

It's time to decide which industry you want to concentrate on and to receive specialized training that will make both you and your drone very useful.

 Let's look at a few options:

  • Real estate: When taking pictures and films of a property, real estate agencies occasionally engage drone operators.
  • Marketing: Businesses may employ a drone pilot for promotional purposes.
  • Film Production: Film productions today regularly use drone shots.
  • Media and Entertainment: Drone operators can also operate in the media and entertainment sector, capturing photographs and films for live sporting events, news, concerts, etc.
  • Building & Construction: To produce 3D photos of a new project, building companies may collaborate with a drone pilot.
  • Surveying: Drone operators assist surveyors in gathering data for new projects and maps.
  • Safety: Drones can collect thermal imaging data that can be useful to firemen and other public safety personnel.
  • Insurance: To gather data on insurance claims, some insurance companies employ drone pilots.
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6. Get your drone insured

Ensuring you have correct and sufficient insurance is a crucial first step in becoming a professional drone pilot. You need liability insurance specifically for drone operations if you're a professional photographer and shoot real estate or weddings, or if you do aerial inspections of bridges and commercial structures. 

Don't assume that your coverage will be provided by a standard company policy since, in most situations, it won't. If you're just getting started, you might seek a flexible drone insurance plan like or SkyWatch.AI that will allow you to buy coverage for your drone flights (on-demand).

You'll probably want or need bigger, more comprehensive insurance as your company expands to provide your protection.

To ensure that you won't go bankrupt in the event of an accident, getting insured to cover damages, is just simple sense. Many of your clients will require confirmation of insurance before hiring you, especially if you are getting higher-end projects.

7. Be aware of waivers when you start flying

As a commercial drone pilot, you must follow specific regulations. The following conditions, according to the FAA, require you to apply for a waiver.

Conditions require for a waiver
Conditions Require for a Waiver

Final Word

Commercial drone pilots are experts who fly drones for commercial enterprises or governmental organizations. You might be able to decide if this is something you want to do as a career by going through this article. 

The steps you can take to become a qualified drone pilot are listed along with a discussion of the job duties and expected salary of a drone pilot. With the gig economy growing, this is a great option to make good money and be your own boss.

We also talked about the drone pilot training required for you to become a commercial drone pilot. Our recommendation is to do a course that also helps you train for the FAA Commercial Drone Pilot License with a test pass guarantee, like the one mentioned in the article above.

Best of luck and safe flying!

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