As per FAA’s 2017 Administrator’s Fact Book, the total number of UAS registrations are fast approaching a million. 70,000 remote pilot certificates were issued in 2017. So while there is no denying the steady demand for UAS services, supply of pilots is more or less keeping up with this demand. This has resulted in an intensely competitive environment and downward pricing pressure on drone services. So, in this scenario it is important for UAS pilots to have a sound business strategy in place.
In this blog post, I provide various tips to break into the drone industry and then gradually build up a steady and profitable drone business. Which drone jobs should beginners go after? Should you take up drone jobs through websites? Which are the most lucrative drone jobs? Read on to find out.
Broadly speaking, drone jobs fall in one of the two categories:
There are many folks who take the volume based approach and are able to make a good living. However, this is significantly more hard work. Sure. If you are a new entrant in the drone industry, you SHOULD target the low-hanging fruit. For beginners, taking up easy, real estate jobs is a great way of learning industry processes and beefing up skill-sets.
However, treat this as a stepping stone to bigger, better and more value added work. Consider this. Why make $25 an hour when you have the opportunity to make $350 an hour?
Websites such as DroneBase and Uplift have a ton of simple real estate jobs. While you can get a steady stream of work, you will not be able to make much money off these jobs. These companies/websites are protecting their own margins. And, the demand-supply mismatch is also quite skewed in favor of these organizations. It is easy for them to find folks willing to take up these low paying jobs.
Moreover they have strict contracts in place. For instance, pilots are often forbidden from handing out their business cards to companies while working as a vendor. However, once the job is over, you CAN get in touch with these clients.
Companies and corporations are hiring drone pilots for as low as $35,000. So at best, you should treat this phase of your career as a paid internship – a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
So, while you can consider working for a company or as a contractor initially, it would be wise to eventually set up your own independent drone business. You need to be more than “just a drone pilot” in order to run a successful drone business. You need to have the skills to fly in bad weather. You should be able to handle any maintenance issues. Remember - good pilots have a system in place and they follow it to the T.
At a later stage, once you have built your skill-set, it would help to classify job types as follows:
So, typically you would be starting out with a low maintenance, low margin job. Like shooting photos for realtors. Or, maybe a wedding shoot. The most lucrative job type? The low maintenance, high margin jobs. You need to be an extremely good pilot to take up these jobs. These are the jobs that can be shot with entry level equipment and pay really well. For instance, power-line inspections. A Phantom 4 Pro is sufficient for this job. And you will need to buy a spectrometer. But when you consider the ROI, it is an extremely attractive proposition.Bear in mind that power-line inspections are incredibly difficult. And if you go wrong, the repercussions are huge.
Which are some of the other lucrative drone jobs? Shooting action sports will also pay you really well. Likewise, luxury hotels and resorts can be a lucrative market too. If you stay in Texas or Iowa, you might have a windmill farm close by. Windmill inspections is another segment that you can consider. Typically, you can earn $350-$400 per inspection.
You need high grade equipment to execute the high maintenance, high margin jobs. So, if you need to map large tracts of land, you might have to opt for a fixed wing drone equipped with LiDAR. Entry level equipment for such jobs will set you back by $25k - $30k. And well, sky is the limit.
You can certainly make a great living as a drone pilot. But you need to strategize and channelize your energies in the right directions. Always aim for the difficult jobs which call for greater creativity and a higher skill set. Once you have built up your skill set, have confidence in your ability and the value that you provide. And learn to articulate your value proposition to your clients and prospects.
Running a drone business can be extremely rewarding. But you need to be creative, dynamic and persistently hard working to reap these rewards.