In 2016, the much anticipated Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) rule went into effect and streamlined the requirements to operate sUAS (or drones) commercially. In the first 16 months, more than 69,000 remote pilot certificates have already been issued. However, FAA certification is just the first step to earning a living as a drone pilot. Every day, people ask Gleim instructors and aviation training consultants about drone operator jobs.
“If there is one underlying key to success, it is perseverance,” said Paul Duty, Gleim Flight Instructor and Remote Pilot. Becoming a remote pilot is the easy part. If you’re new to aviation, you can earn your remote pilot license after passing the FAA knowledge test and submitting an online application. Gleim provides the materials that new pilots need to prepare for and pass the test. If you already hold a sport pilot certificate or higher, it’s even easier to obtain a remote pilot license. Previously certificated pilots can simply take an online exam on the FAA Safety Team website.
“Preparing for the FAA knowledge test is easy with the Gleim Remote Pilot Kit,” said Johnathan Smith, AKA LightSport Man. Smith has created his own successful drones-as-a-service business after using our products. “I have found that by using this kit you will learn everything you need to pass the FAA test. Without the Gleim Remote Pilot Kit, I would not be doing the work I am doing today. I tell all my students to start out by ordering the kit because it’s the best on the market!”
Once the ink dries on your new license, you are all cleared to use your new drone for commercial use. Of course, there are limitations to commercial drone usage that the FAA put into place to protect the public and manned aircraft. For example, commercial drones cannot be operated at night. The aircraft must be kept under 100 mph and flown below 400 feet. Pilots must keep the aircraft within their line-of-sight, and flights are limited to operations outside most controlled airspace areas. That means avoiding flights near many busy airports.
The FAA allow pilots and organizations to request waivers for specific regulations in certain situations if they can demonstrate their ability to safely mitigate any risks. Government offices, public safety organizations, and public universities can fly under the Part 107 rules, or they can apply for a Certificate of Authorization (COA). Not far from the Gleim headquarters, the Alachua County Fire Rescue has a COA and the necessary waivers to allow flight at night and in the Gainesville Class D controlled airspace.
Now that you’ve got the rules and regulations out of the way, you’re ready to go out and make some money, right? Not so fast! Before you hop on your favorite job site and look for remote pilot jobs, be warned that the drone industry is still fairly young. Indeed, you can try to build your career by searching through monstrous job posting websites, but you’ll likely be competing against hundreds of applicants for limited positions. You aren’t going to find an abundance of opportunities just waiting for you to walk through the door with your drone in hand. Most organizations haven’t even thought about incorporating drone use into their everyday operations.
“You’ll need an entrepreneurial spirit to find work using your drone,” said Duty. “As companies are just starting to learn how drone implementation can improve or streamline their businesses, it will take some creativity to find your fit.” UAVs have thousands of uses, but it can be hard for managers and executives to see the value without a real business case being made to start using drones.
Think about the work you’re already doing and see if there’s a way to squeeze in drone usage. “I like to say find a need and fill it,” Duty said. He cautioned that “Just because there might be a service, doesn’t automatically mean it has value. That would be like selling features without any benefits. Remember to sell the sizzle, not the steak!”
For example, if you’re an insurance claims adjuster, you might realize how drones can get aerial views of the sites you’re inspecting. To justify a new process, you need to make a case for the savings, efficiency, improved services, or added value that the operation brings to the table. Insurance adjusters can use drones to assess damages more accurately because they can see affected areas from angles that may be more revealing or too dangerous to access on the ground.
Industries that were early adopters of UAVs have proven that their applications are only limited by imagination. Farmers can use drones for precision agriculture and cattle management. The ability to survey land quickly and pinpoint areas requiring additional treatment can save hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars worth of resources.
Real estate agents are using drones to capture stunning visuals of properties that add value and help properties sell faster. Helping prospective buyers see more of the neighborhood before visiting the property allows real estate agents to leverage their time across more clients. Some drones are even small enough to fly inside and create seamless video tours that are much better than the lifeless, 360-degree “virtual tours” from fixed-camera shots that most people are used to seeing.
Starting a drones-as-a-service business like LightSport Man can be daunting. Smith has created a Professional Drone Association that can offer assistance with anything from scripts to help you work with a variety of industries to guidelines for camera settings to get the perfect shot. If you only want to fly your drone and get paid for it, you can still do just that. Services like Drone Base allow remote pilots to self-assign missions while they take care of editing and selling your work. It’s a great way to earn supplemental income or get experience with a variety of missions.
As drone technology improves and becomes more commonplace, new and innovative applications are taking flight. Social media giants are developing drones that can provide wireless internet to remote areas. Online retailers are testing package delivery. Even the food service industry is researching on-demand order delivery. Perhaps the days of getting cold pizza delivered after being stuck in traffic are almost over! Stay imaginative and keep your eyes open for new ways you can strike gold with your drone.
About Gleim Aviation
Since 1980, the Gleim Aviation team of pilots, instructors, writers, designers, and programmers has helped aviators pass millions of FAA knowledge and practical tests using the unique Gleim Knowledge Transfer System. Gleim is an environmentally-friendly company headquartered in Gainesville, FL.
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