To compliment our earlier post about drone training in the UK here is the second in this series about careers and employment – Drone Training USA.
Making a living by flying drones is becoming a more and more widespread career trajectory for many. This is due to a massive technological boom in the UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) market. The digital age has shepherded in a new era where jobs in the tech field are developing by leaps and bounds. The starting salaries are pretty enticing with many jobs starting between $45,000 to $65,000 per year.
Training to become a commercial drone pilot is appealing due to the versatile nature of the certification. You won’t be stuck with a useless degree in a field with no jobs and a large amount of student debt after your training, either. Drone training is open to anyone who wants to learn a new and useful skill that will get you somewhere in today’s job market. The typical drone certification course costs around $4,000, whereas tuition at a traditional college averages out to be nearly $27,000 annually in 2017.
Certain people are typically drawn to seek out drone pilot training. Some of these groups include experienced quadcopter hobbyists wanting to transition into being paid for their skills, former military personnel looking for a civilian career, and even photographers interested in growing their business by offering aerial photography. People seeking a new career in a growing market are also flocking to take certification courses.
If you’re bored in your current career, or even need your first career, and have been wanting a major change, then this could very well be the right path for you. Not everyone is suited for office or retail life. Being able to enjoy the outdoors, travel (depending on your job), and gather stunning images and information from a fresh point of view are all major factors in drawing new pilots into this field.
There are a lot of new careers being created thanks to drone technology in fields with dangerous and dirty jobs that not a lot of people want to do. Drones reduce the risk of personal danger when performing many of these jobs. Surveying natural disaster sites and aiding law enforcement are examples of how drones can impact the safety of a job.
Archaeology is another interesting field that has greatly benefitted from the use of drones. Drones aid archaeologists in surveying new sites of interest and help them better prepare their team for the dig. They save money and have unprecedented access to areas previously thought unreachable by any means other than expensive fly-overs and dangerous hikes.
Surveying using LIDAR, map making and photogrammetry are fields that have benefitted greatly from UAV pilots. Drones have contributed to the advancement of new photographic techniques in order to create a detailed view of the landscape.
The YouTube community has made a new market for drone use as well. Some very well-known YouTubers have utilized drone technology to make their productions pop and views increase. You don’t have to be a YouTuber to enjoy and profit off of videographer skills, though. Drone wedding photography is becoming increasingly popular as you can get some pretty cool shots of the big day that way. The sky is literally the limit with videography.
Due to well-placed regulations by the FAA you must become certified before becoming a professional by taking a drone training course. There are actually many of these available online, but you may need to be willing to go to an on-site campus for part of the course so you can get hands-on training. UVU, Unmanned Vehicle University, is one of many that offer a reputable program for prospective pilots. You must find a school accredited by the FAA.
Some of the things covered in the certification course at UVU are a history of drones, the physics of how they work, and how the controls work. You will also learn about weather principles in regards to flying drones. Most importantly you will gain experience and instruction from qualified instructors. They will teach you about safety and FAA regulations as well.
After the “written” part of the course, you will then be given the opportunity to fly a drone simulator. This is the next best thing to real life experience. In a simulation, you can’t really cause any damage, but it still feels real.
After passing the “written” and simulation sections of the course, you will then have your flying classes. These are the most important step. You can’t learn to fly a drone without flying a drone. As part of the course materials, you will build your drone from a kit.
In addition to certification courses, there are also supplemental classes you can take to enhance your skillset. Udemy has a plethora of courses at a low price of typically $10 per class. You can focus on certain specializations like videography and photography, and even how to start your own business using your drone pilot training.
With the right education and training, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful professional drone pilot in the field of your choosing. When choosing a school, please do your research. It is essential that the program you choose is backed by the FAA and follows all of their rules.
Know Your Regulations and Laws
The FAA, Federal Aviation Administration, has strict guidelines you must follow if you’re to become a drone pilot, but especially a professional being paid for your services. These rules and regulations are essential in keeping others and your equipment safe.
There are variations in the rules between flying your drone as a hobby and flying or pay. A drone hobbyist doesn’t need to have a pilot’s certification, whereas the professional pilot does. Let’s discuss some of these rules that you must follow, specifically the professional pilot rules, according to the FAA website. This is not an exhaustive list.
1. You must be a minimum of 16 years old. There is no minimum age requirement for drone hobbyists, but due to labor laws, one must be of a certain age before being paid for a service. Most jobs you can’t get until you’re at least 16.
2. Have the Remote Pilot Airman Certificate. This is where the course you took or are planning to take comes in.
3. You will need to pass TSA vetting. The TSA is the Transportation Security Administration. They’re the ones who control who can fly, even as a passenger on an airplane. They have to do the security checks for professional drone pilots so that the security of clients, companies, and the government aren’t threatened by someone with ulterior motives.
The professional drone pilot is one of the fastest growing career paths because there are so many directions you could go with it. As long as you do your research, pick a reputable certification program, and follow the rules then you can be well on your way to literally changing how we see and experience the world around us.
Drones are becoming increasingly numerous in many aspects of daily life. By now most people are familiar with the fact that they take photographs, film aerial videos, and map the landscape.
Recent drone market data has confirmed that UAS technology has progressed from the exploratory experimental phase and has now reached the solid implementation phase.
In this Drone Age UAV will become an essential part of operations in everything from professional photography to the oil and gas industry. It is predicted that by 2020 there will be 7 million drones in the air.
Between this year and the next the figure will reach approximately 600,000 commercial drones alone flying below 500 feet in our skies. Perhaps, as you watch TV news, documentaries, and films you have already become accustomed to spotting the drone footage.
Drones are a huge advantage to many including map makers seeking greater accuracy and a method of collecting data in a cost effective way. For example, they are reportedly being used by Apple to improve its Maps app.
Drones can also be used for internal end external structural inspections of buildings and industrial plants. This makes them immensely useful for collecting data using a variety of camera lenses in areas that are dirty or dangerous – where humans would prefer not to visit due to the risks or the discomfort involved.
As a result of the burgeoning drone industry there is an ever growing demand for drone pilots. There has never been a better time to get involved in flying drones. Perhaps you plan to incorporate drone technology into your current business, or you intend to become a freelance drone pilot, or perhaps your goal is to start a drone business.
Whatever your ambitions you will need good quality training provided by companies authorised to provide it by the aviation authority.
Flying any aircraft requires that the pilot in command obeys certain rules and regulations. The same principles apply to pilots in command of unmanned aircraft. The fact that you’re on the ground and not in a cockpit doesn’t alter the fact that you have a responsibility for an aircraft.
Your UAV may be small and light, but it’s an aircraft nonetheless. It means that you have to adhere specific restrictions relating to RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems) operating at low level and often in areas of intense human activity e.g. urban and industrial areas.
One of the responsibilities of UK’s CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) is formulating and administering of all aspects of Air Law. There are rules which apply to all unmanned aircraft, whether they are being flown for fun or for commercial reasons.
These rules will vary depending on the size of your drone and where you are planning to fly it. If you plan to fly your drone over your own property then fewer restrictions will apply, although there will still be some with which you need to be familiar.
The main purpose of all this regulation is safety. They are designed to minimise the risk of any injury to people (on the ground or in the air) or damage to property. There are also regulations that protecting peoples’ rights to privacy and for prohibiting the use of drones for illegal activities.
The main source of all the information about the UK’s rules and regulations is the CAA’s website. Start at unmanned aviation section and become familiar with all the contents.
If you want to fly a drone for any kind of commercial work in the UK you need to be over 18 years old. You will need to pass a written exam that tests your knowledge of best flying practices, airmanship, air law, and airspace restrictions. You will also need to pass a flight assessment in which your flying skills will be tested.
Thirdly, you will need to compile an Operations Manual which outlines the basic flying procedures for the types of flights you intend to undertake with your drone.
Once you’ve passed the exam and the flight assessment, and completed your Operations Manual, you can apply to the CAA for a PfCO which stands for Permission for Commercial Operation from the CAA (Formerly called PfAW – Permission for Aerial Work. They changed it in August 2016).
PfCO’s are valid for 12 months from the date of issue. Applications for renewal are best sent at least 30 days before the expiry date to ensure continuity.
If you change the type of UAV flown or any aspect of the type of flights flown then you’ll need to amend your Operations Manual and inform the CAA of those changes.
In the UK training is provided by NQEs, National Qualified Entities. These are training organisations approved to provide training, adjudicate exams, and conduct flight assessments.
There are NQEs all over the UK now. Just google for ‘drone training‘ in your chosen area e.g. ‘drone training Exeter‘. You shouldn’t have to travel too far for courses and assessments.
Failure to comply with CAA regulations can result in hefty fines and even a prison sentence. It is therefore crucial to make sure that you do not fall foul of the law at any time, and the safeguard against that is high quality training that fosters a good sense of airmanship.
Safe and legal training is provided by CAA accredited training organisations called NQEs, National Qualified Entities. Choosing one of these organisations to train you is a very smart choice because it means that you will know the relevant regulations perfectly.
As well as providing the theoretical knowledge that you need an NQE will also provide practical training. They will lead you form ab initio student to a professional level of competency. They will also advise you on how to apply for your PfCO.
Currently, there are four main paths that people take to become commercial drone operators.
The first path is as a hobbyist who finds that they can make money from their drone flying skills. If you can already fly a quadcopter well you may already have been wondering if you can earn money by doing so. Your experience of the flying characteristics of various airframes and the software that controls them will stand you in good stead for the move into the professional world.
The second path stems from the military. If you originally trained as a military UAV pilot and you’re now ready to now move into the civilian world then there are commercial drone flying openings awaiting you. The military experience with the emphasis on teamwork and adherence to flight procedures are the ideal foundation for a new career flying commercial UAV.
Thirdly, we have professional photographers who are looking to branch out into aerial photography. If you already work as a photographer it makes sense to capitalise on the growing demand for aerial photography. Aerial photography skills will enable you to get that perfect shots from previously inaccessible angles and heights.
The fourth and final path to drone flying starts with anyone who thinks of themselves as an entrepreneur. If you want to make money from the hottest trends and are seeking a career in a developing market, and if you are ready to turn your hand to anything as long as it is lucrative, drone flying is for you.
In addition to the basic drone pilot training classes provided by CAA accredited NQEs there are various specialisations that you can adopt. Depending on your current or desired career you might want to specialise in videography, cinematography and film editing alongside basic drone flying skills. Technological additions to your drone will enable you to equip it for a specific purpose such as film making or high definition photography.
Another popular customisation to consider for your drone is a LiDAR sensor. LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors send a pulsing laser beam to scan the earth’s surface and measure the time it takes for the light to hit the target and return to its source. The data is compiled to create very accurate 3D models of terrain. These sensors are highly useful in any profession that requires topographical data such as agriculture, forestry, and archaeology.
You may be surprised by the vast array of courses that are available to enhance your current drone flying skills and ensure that you can put your drone to good use in a specific field. From courses on building quadcopters from scratch to others on using drones for aerial photography, videography, cinematography, and live streaming you will have no trouble finding a teacher and a module that suits your needs.
As new applications for drones are discovered and new niches open up in the market, new drone training courses are beginning up and down the country.
To summarise, start your drone training with accredited trainers who will help you develop the habits that will last throughout your career. Develop a strong sense of airmanship and situational awareness that keeps you in control of any aircraft in flight.
In Continental Europe drones are regulated by the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency). Laws differ from country to country within Europe so no matter what country you wish to fly your drone in it is crucial that you check the the rules and regulations that apply to unmanned aircraft in that country’s airspace.
As the UAS industry continues to evolve it must come as no surprise that drone pilots jobs are increasing proportionally with this expansion. Just like the rapid growth of the mobile phone network a few decades ago there are now many opportunities for solo operators, small businesses, and large companies.
Note: If you would prefer to hear this post instead of reading it then here’s the video version. You’ll find other videos of this type in my YouTube channel.
Drone pilots have several benefits to enjoy and to look forward to as they begin and continue their careers.
With the growth of the UAS industry there is a high probability of continuous and secure employment. Estimates from industry associations suggest that there will be hundreds of thousand of new drone pilots jobs in the USA and the UK in the next few decades.
Along with the jobs for drone pilots themselves there are all the other roles that the industry creates; trainers, hardware designers, software developers, engineers, and regulatory, ancillary & administration staff.
The same expansion could create demand that exceeds supply and thereby increase salaries for drone pilots with competition for the number of experienced UAV operators, especially those with rare skills.
Some drone pilots have opted for starting their own companies and finding work through their own marketing skills. Others prefer to leave running a business to an employer and have found positions in companies that provide the advantages of steady employment.
Salaries are of course commensurate with skills and experience. An ex-military UAV pilot who use to fly Reapers and is now operating a civilian equivalent for meteorological research purposes will earn more than a DJI Phantom pilot doing urban roof inspections!
Job Variety & Interest
There are already many uses for UAV and as new hardware and software is developed this is likely to continue to increase. Drone pilots can expect to be given tasks that test their abilities in variety of environments and climates.
A drone pilot can expect to work in rural, urban, and industrial areas. There is no limit to where filming might be required from one week to the next. It’s part of the attraction and adds a certain level of excitement not knowing where you’ll be from one week to the next.
Following on from the point about variety there are also the prospect of foreign travel. Although the UAS industry in expanding rapidly the growth is not consistent among countries in the developed world.
Already drone pilots in the UK and USA are finding that their skills are required not just at home but abroad too. Some countries still have strict regulations that have slowed or even prohibited the growth of the UAS industry. However, the demand for aerial photography remains so companies that need that service have looked abroad and contracted out for the task.
Drone pilots who specialise in a particular discipline can develop skills that are rare and therefore in high demand.
Like all technologies there few people who are experts in every field and most will choose to have one main area of expertise while still being competent in several others.
There’s an old joke in aviation:
Q: How can you tell if there’s a pilot in the room?
A: He’ll tell you.
Let’s face it, when someone asks you what you do for a living telling them you fly drones is likely to be the start of an interesting conversation, even if the listener is wary of them and the risks, real or imagined.
People are interested in new technology and drones are at the leading edge now. The only disadvantage to this curiosity is that some people see fit to walk up to you with a list of questions while you’re concentrating on flying safely and according to the flight plan!
For those who have begun a career in this new Drone Age then the prospects are very good indeed. As described above there is likely to be job security, opportunities for variety, and rising salaries.
However, drone pilots will need to maintain their skills and learn new ones. As the technology develops so will they also need to keep abreast of these developments and incorporate them into their skillsets.
If at any time flying the drones themselves with all that it involves; travel (domestic or foreign), being out in all weathers, and locations etc, then the UAV operator can move into a variety of roles that will make use of his or her experience in the field.
All those entries in the pilot’s logbook can become fertile ground for developers and designers who know first hand where there is room for improvement in both aircraft design and software utilities.