You’ve got a shiny new drone, or a reliable older UAV, you’ve had some fun flying around the backyard, you even took it on a hike once, but now it’s collecting dust and you want to put it to use. Why not make some money with it, who wouldn’t want to get paid to fly their drone?
There are many ways you can make money with your drone, from the top down, let’s explore some of the leading industries using drones today, explore some of those fun drone jobs.
Things to know before you fly
- You must acquire your Part 107 certificate before you can receive compensation for your flight
- You must register your drone with the FAA before you fly
- You must affix your drone registration number to your craft
- Coming soon: The FAA will require even hobby pilots to pass a test before they fly
- You must follow all of the FAA’s airspace rules if you are flying outdoors
- Hobby flights have different requirements from commercial flights
- In the eye’s of the FAA, drones are aircraft. Period.
- You need to acquire authorization to fly in controlled airspace
When you really look at it, there are only three main flight actions that encompass all drone jobs: Your drone is simply a tool to carry a camera, your drone is physically delivering a thing, or you can be paid to make your drone go somewhere, such as around a race track, or to hoist an advertising banner or spotlight into the sky. That’s really it. You’ll find that over 90% of drone jobs are based on putting a camera into the sky.
Let’s explore the industries that can put your flying camera to work. In alphabetical order.
Agricultural drone jobs
Farming is more than just a job, it’s your livelihood. Protecting your crops, your herd, is just as important as keeping them healthy. When we talk about agricultural drones, we’re talking about machines with sprayers and advanced cameras to inspect and spot-spray your crops. If you need to keep an eye on your herd, to inspect the fence line for egress points, almost any inspection drone will do the job.
Crop inspection can be handled with near any camera drone, if you are scouring over the footage and making your own decisions, but, did you know there are AI driven analysis tools available that can flag certain characteristics of your crop to alert you of potential issues? Combine a smart drone with a smart sprayer and you can save thousands of dollars on spray and labor to deliver that spray to the field. We all love to watch a good crop dusting pilot in the sky, but even the best pilot is wildly inefficient compared to the accuracy of a modern drone that can spray each plant individually, if needed.
Build and repair drones
We’re going to talk all about ways to make money using your drone today, but don’t forget that there is money in building and repairing drones. You may not be in a place to start your own company, but in all of the listed jobs in the article, it’s possible that you can get a job as the fleet manager. Your role would be to inspect each drone after each flight, looking for any signs of damage or wear.
You’ll need to keep track of all of the work performed on each machine, and should probably record battery charging information as well.
Perhaps that fleet management aspect does not appeal to you, maybe you just want to sit at a workbench swapping out broken parts on crashed drones. That’s an important job.
Construction drone jobs
Drone tasks on a jobsite are increasing. We do not yet have drones that can hold a beam in place while a crew bolts it to a structure, but a drone can deliver one end of a rope to the roof. Those are minor use-cases, the majority of drones in the construction worksite are deployed for inspection and jobsite overview. It’s fun to watch the timelapse of a building being constructed, those animations are usually generated from scheduled overview photo and video that the crew and management use on a daily basis to evaluate progress and identify any issues.
Government drone jobs
Drone tasks for the government can vary a lot. Some governments use drones for surveillance purposes, but more likely government drones belong to fire crews and law enforcement. Police helicopters are very expensive to operate, a drone is far more affordable and accessible. There are use-cases for each, but a drone can be in the sky in minutes, providing actionable life-saving information before a helicopter can even spin up its rotors.
On the fire fighting front, the main task is situational awareness. Identifying the boundary of a fire, or identifying obstacles in a search & rescue operation. Thermal cameras come into handy here, either to find a body, or to find dangerous hot spots in a fire.
Aerial imagery is a welcome addition to government surveys and environmental efforts. I am convinced that a number of the ludicrous interchanges and intersections in my city could have been avoided if crews had a top-down view of the area they had to work with.
Honestly, any of the other jobs on this list can fall into government jobs, but you’ll have to work for the government before you can get started.
Insurance drone jobs
Insurance companies have the disadvantage of having to react to situations, often without getting to see the assets and factors involved. It’s easy enough to put eyes on a bruised bumper on a car, but inspecting hail damage to the roof of your house is another thing entirely. No longer does a human have to risk life to climb, instead a drone can just pop up and capture some photos and video. Make no mistake, photos and video will never entirely replace the efforts of a skilled human, but at least a few drone photos can help steer a human to the right place, or help them avoid an unexpected hazard.
Some law enforcement agencies have begun using drones for accident photos and accident reconstruction efforts. This imagery can also be useful for insurance companies to understand an incident, which can be great for you, if you are forced to prove you were not at fault.
Real Estate drone jobs
This is just fun. We’ve all gone house shopping, isn’t neat to see aerial images of a property, instead of some random up-close shots from a real estate agent’s phone? Don’t go thinking the only job here is simply aerial photography, sometimes an accurate 3D representation of a building is a requirement. 3D mapping is an advanced topic, requiring specialized software, and usually some very precise flight, but this is usually only required for commercial real estate, your typical family home just needs some good looking photos to entice potential buyers.
Energy Sector drone jobs
The energy sector has many parts to it. The typical drone job is going to be infrastructure inspection. Sometimes you’ll be inspecting things like the tops of power poles, other times you’ll need to fly along 100 miles of wires looking for damage or obstructions.
After many of the major forest fires in California and Oregon in 2020, a bunch of drone manufacturers strongly advertised their drones and services designed to identify places where power lines come into contact with vegetation. It’s not uncommon for the electrical grid to throw some sparks, it’s best if there are no trees right there to get hit by those sparks.
Inspection drone jobs
If you hadn’t noticed yet, many of the other jobs listed on this page are actually inspection jobs. Using your drone to inspect things is a valuable use for a flying camera. You can inspect anything from a field of grass to a single bolt at the top of a radio tower, and everything in between. The best inspection drones are equipped with multiple cameras, at the very least, a rotating RGB camera that has a zoom lens, to act as your eyes in the sky, and then a thermal camera.
Thermal cameras are underrated as inspection tools. They make sense in the energy sector, where you are watching for overheating pipes and wires. Did you know that the RCMP in Canada uses thermal imaging to identify overweight delivery trucks? That’s right, if nothing else, they look at the temperature of the tires on the vehicle. Red hot tires are not only a hazard, but indicative of an overloaded truck. Anyhow, thermal cameras are important for inspecting overheating infrastructure, can help get an accurate head count of a crowd of people, and a number of tasks in between.
Military drone jobs
The military has a number of classifications for UAV, usually based on size. The smallest of drones are designed for local situational awareness, then you move up the list to add longer range surveillance, and eventually armaments. Please check out our military drones list for more info. Bottom line, there are some fun things you can do with drones if you are willing to join the military.
Mining drone jobs
Technically speaking, mining drone jobs are some of the most difficult around. Have you flown a DJI drone? Super easy, right? That’s because DJI has a superb GPS navigation system, their drones can hold a solid hover, but what happens when they lose GPS connection? Most have visioning sensors, but that’s not how they’re made to fly. Heading underground is a GPS-restricted environment, and it has limited flight space. Your skills as a pilot will be put to the test!
Low light situations add to the difficulty. Can you fly blind, or by radar? The folks at Digital Aereolous have a drone solution for you, but they’re one of the few designing for these difficult environments.
When it comes to open mines, things get easy again, you’re basically just at a construction site doing inspection work again.
Photography drone jobs
Have you noticed yet that most drone jobs are just taking photos from the sky? Using those aerial images for inspection and archival is one thing, but you might have come here as an artist, and indeed, there’s money to made taking photos from the sky. Every photographer that has taken a group photo knows the difficulty of getting everyone into frame. There’s a good chance they tried to get the camera as high up as possible while they were at it. A good use for a flying camera.
Environment photography is on a new level when shot from the sky as well. We’ve all seen photos of fields, forests, lakes, and mountains, they take on a new life when you capture those photos from higher up.
Public Safety drone jobs (Search & Rescue)
Public safety can encompass many things, but search and rescue is a leading use for drones. Nothing says “safety” quite like literally saving a life. If you want to get involved in public safety drone jobs, especially search and rescue, please get in contact with a local agency right away. They won’t have time to bring you into the fold while there is a big fire or a missing person in the mix.
Security drone jobs
As I walk around my own neighborhood, I’m seeing more and more doorbell cameras on houses. These are simple security devices made to help home owners in the event that a bad actor attempts to make a new victim. What if, instead of being attached to the front of the house, that camera could fly around the house? We’re a long way from that being a normal thing, but there are many businesses that could use a drone to fly a parameter fence or parking lot, if nothing else.
Elevated cameras are also very useful when there is a crowd of people. Flying over people requires some special permissions, but you can imagine the use-cases, I’m sure.
In essence, a security drone job is just a video surveillance job.
Racing and entertainment
Finally, you can actually be paid to just fly. Perhaps there’s no hourly wage, but the purse in a larger drone racing competition can be a lot of money.
In a rare case, you could find a job as a pilot for testing out new drones. You see this in the aeronautical and automotive worlds a lot, the test driver and test pilot simply show up to put a machine through its paces. They have to know what the machine needs to do, and be able to accomplish those tasks in the test, but they are, basically, just paid to fly a machine.
It’s more likely, however, that you’ll find a piloting job in an advertising role. You’ve seen the airplanes carrying banners, and you’ve seen balloons and blimps tethered at a car dealership, drones are increasingly improving enough to handle some of these tasks, if only on a smaller scale.
Get to work!