Piloting a drone is an increasingly popular business due to improvements in drone technology and availability. You can start a drone business in a variety of fields, including real estate and wedding photography, aerial surveying, precision agriculture, search and rescue, inspection services, drone deliveries, and more. The start-up costs for a drone business are high, as you need to purchase a drone, computer software, license, pilot certificate, and more to get it off the ground. However, drone pilots can make good salaries and charge $250 or more per session, depending on their expertise and the type of drone they have.
Images of drones are often associated with the military, operating silent robots in the sky in distant locations across the globe. They are thought of as large, bulky machines that need an entire runway and a specially trained operator just to get them off the ground. However, that is no longer the case.
The proliferation of smaller, portable drones and advancements in drone technology has allowed more and more people to take advantage of their availability and start businesses with them. Drone owners these days can start practically any sort of business, from real estate photography to building inspection services to precision agriculture. People have been starting drone businesses as side jobs and main jobs, and their popularity and income potential are only growing.
What is a drone?
A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) without a human pilot, crew, or passengers on board. Drones can be flown via remote control or autonomously through a software-controlled flight plan.
Although they have traditionally been associated with the military, drones are now increasingly used by civilians for a variety of tasks. These include traffic and weather monitoring, photography, delivery services, firefighting, and personal recreational uses.
How do drones work?
In order to fly, drones must have some sort of power source, typically either from a battery pack or fuel. There is also a motor attached to the drone, complete with rotors and propellers to help make it fly.
A drone must also have someone physically controlling it. Drone pilots can communicate with their drones through radio waves, including Wi-Fi.
How can you become a drone pilot?
In order to operate a drone weighing under 55 pounds, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires you to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate. Certificate holders must also complete recurring online training every 24 calendar months.
In addition to the certificate, the FAA requires pilots to be at least 16 years old, be in fit physical and mental condition, and pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam known as Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG).
What types of drones are there?
There are two main types of drone platforms, under which most drones available for commercial use fall under. There are rotor drones, including single-rotor and multi-rotor, such as tricopters and quadcopters. And there are fixed-wing drones, which include the hybrid vertical takeoff and landing drones that don’t require runways.
From there, drones fall into a range of different categories, depending on their size and intended use. These include:
- Nano drones that weigh less than or equal to 250 grams
- Microdrones weigh greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg
- Small drones weigh greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg
- Medium drones weigh greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg
- Large drones weigh greater than 150 kg
How much do drones cost?
The prices of drones vary wildly, from as little as $50 to as much as $10,000, depending on the type of drone and its specifications.
Generally, however, a beginner toy drone costs between $30 to $90, while an entry-level drone with a camera costs anywhere from $300 to $500. For a mid-level consumer drone, you can expect to pay somewhere in the range of $500 to $2,000, while high-end professional drones can cost up to $20,000 or even more.
3 ways to finance a drone
If you are looking for ways to finance a new drone, compare the rates and terms you get from multiple lenders. Here are three options to consider.
- SuperMoney’s loan offer engine allows you to get prequalified offers from leading lenders without hurting your credit.
- If you have excellent credit, you may also consider financing the drone with a credit card that offers a 0% APR intro rate and pay it off before the introductory period ends.
- If you already have an established business, you may also want to consider applying for a business loan.
How much money can you make flying drones?
The median average salary of a drone pilot is around $82,000 a year. Drone pilot jobs are increasing in demand as the popularity of drones rises. You can find drone pilot jobs on many job sites.
Hourly rates vary a lot, but the average drone pilot makes about $250 to $350 per 60-90-minute session, depending on their level of experience and the quality of the photos and video footage they provide. If you have a special type of training that is uncommon in the larger market, you can also typically charge more for services. Keep in mind that a session may also include preparation, meeting with clients, and travel to and from the site.
How can you earn money with a drone?
There are a variety of ways to make money with a drone. A drone business is an increasingly popular way of earning extra cash, while some people have even turned it into a primary source of income.
1. Real estate photography and videography
You can work with real estate agents to take pictures and videos of certain properties. Aerial photos can be a great way to see different parts of a property that you wouldn’t be able to see just standing on the ground. Drone footage allows you to capture some of the more difficult parts of a property that might entice buyers to purchase it.
Additionally, hotel and rental property owners might appreciate the services of a drone pilot. When trying to find a place to stay, people typically want to view the entire property. A drone pilot can capture the types of perks that might sway a customer in deciding to stay at one hotel or vacation home over another.
2. Aerial surveying
Aerial surveying is another great way to make money with a drone. This entails flying your drone over a specified land area and collecting pictures of different portions of the land. The pictures are then combined using various types of mapping software to get a complete picture of the area.
Aerial surveys can be used in digital mapping, feature recognition, topography, archaeology, and more. Additionally, the aerial images you capture while surveying can be used to put together 3D models and reconstructions.
3. Aerial wedding videography
Wedding photography and videography is not only very popular but also a profitable business. People love the types of outstanding photos and videos that can only be captured with a drone and will remind them forever of this special day.
That said, this is an extremely competitive field that can be tough to break into. Having secondary skills in addition to drone operation, including video editing and photo editing, can help separate you from the pack.
4. Drone deliveries
Drone deliveries have seen a sharp rise in popularity as online shopping has become a larger part of our everyday lives. Amazon has started its own drone delivery service that is designed to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less using small UAV drones. Larger drones have even been used by various humanitarian services to safely deliver food, water, and medicine to conflict zones around the world.
Although most companies like to use their own drones and drone pilots to make deliveries, there are some freelance opportunities for this type of work.
5. Search and rescue
Drones can be a hugely beneficial tool for search and rescue operations in areas that have been struck by disaster. Smart remote UAVs can provide real-time video footage to public safety officials and are widely used in locations affected by hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
Freelance UAV pilots are typically well paid for this job. However, there are also companies that gather together volunteer drone pilots, so that when disaster strikes, there is a drone pilot in the area ready to help. Disaster relief drones are always in demand.
6. Precision agriculture
Drones can be easily used for mapping, spraying pesticides, monitoring crop growth, monitoring irrigation systems, evaluating soil health, delivering spot treatments, and more. These operations are incredibly helpful to farmers, as they can potentially increase crop yield and reduce costs.
Drones used in precision agriculture are often equipped with a specialized camera that utilizes infrared video to capture specific wavelengths. They produce contrasting colors while shooting, which can help farmers view the overall health of crops in a certain area.
7. Inspection jobs
Drones are a great tool for quickly and easily reaching water or gas outlets while also capturing quality video footage. This can be a great help for utility companies when performing their regular checkups and damage assessments.
In addition to utility companies, other types of businesses also use drone operators for similar purposes, such as construction and insurance companies.
8. Selling stock photos and video footage
Drone photography is one of the most popular and profitable ways to make money with a drone. You can take aerial photos and videos of attractive places, landscapes, destinations, or sites and sell them online as stock photos. Or you can sell them directly to buyers via websites like Etsy and eBay.
Having your own YouTube channel is also a great way to get eyes on your work. You can post video footage onto your channel, which people can then view and offer to buy. Aerial photography is an increasingly popular product, and if you can offer professional-looking photos, you’ll find an ever-growing market to purchase them.
9. Reselling drones
Because of the price of drones, reselling them, even used, can be a very lucrative business. The general business model the secondary drone market follows is to purchase popular new drone models at a low, preferably wholesale, price, and later sell them at a higher price to your customers. You can do this with an online store or through online marketplaces like eBay.
There’s a sizable upfront cost associated with this business, as you have to first purchase the drones new in order to resell them secondhand.
How much does it cost to start a drone business?
The total cost of starting your own drone business can vary based on the type of equipment you need. For example, you might not need to purchase the most top-of-the-line drone just to get started. That said, general price ranges for items you might need include the following:
A new drone can cost anywhere from $50 to $10,000 depending on the type of specifications and the size of the drone itself. This will be your most expensive cost by far when getting your drone business off the ground.
A powerful, capable computer will be vital to your drone business. A computer that can handle the needed functions for editing the drone photo and video footage you take will cost anywhere from $500 to $1,500.
You will likely need to add some sort of photo editing software to your computer if you plan on using your drone for aerial drone photos or videos. Additionally, if you plan to use your drone for aerial surveying, you will need drone mapping software. These various software systems typically cost between $99 to $299.
Drone insurance is strongly recommended if you want to make sure your drone will be covered should something happen to it. The average cost of a drone insurance policy costs somewhere between $500 to $750 per year.
Remote Pilot Certificate
The FAA requires a Remote Pilot Certificate to operate drones weighing under 55 pounds. The FAA exam you have to take to obtain the license will cost $175.
A business license is necessary to start any business, and drone operators are no different. A business license can cost between just a few dollars to several hundred dollars depending on the type of business you are looking to start.
You may also need additional equipment, such as thermal cameras or 3D imaging software, for your drone, depending on your industry. For example, drones used for precision agriculture will need a thermal camera.
If you need a business loan to purchase equipment, you can use our comparison tool to find the best loan for you.
How much money can I make with a drone?
The amount of money you can make with a drone depends on the type of business you decide to start and the quality of your drone. On average, drone pilots make $250-$350 per session. The more capable your drone is and the better you are as a pilot, the more you can charge for your services. Also, if you’re more experienced in your chosen field, you can charge more for your services.
How can you make money using a drone?
You can make money using a drone most reliably by offering aerial photography and videography services. That said, you can make more money by getting into niche fields such as aerial surveying and precision agriculture.
What business can you start with a drone?
There are a variety of businesses you can start with a drone, including aerial photography and video, aerial surveying, precision agriculture, drone deliveries, inspection services, search and rescue, and reselling drones. There is a growing market for drone pilots.
How profitable is a drone business?
The amount of money you can make with a drone business depends on the type of market you’re serving. For example, drone photography, which is an increasingly popular field, will likely earn you less money than a more niche specialization like aerial mapping or precision agriculture. Because these jobs are harder to fill, pilots with the necessary skills can charge more for their services.
Is the drone license test hard?
The FAA test to get your drone pilot’s license is considered to be difficult. You have to score a minimum of 70% on the test to pass and get your drone pilot’s license. That said, it’s generally agreed that as long as you study and come prepared, you shouldn’t have any trouble passing the test.
How much money do drone photographers make?
The average full-time drone photographer makes, on average, around $50,000 per year, or $24 per hour. You can charge more depending on the certifications, specifications of your drone, and level of experience you have as a pilot. Drone photography is an increasingly popular industry, so competition is growing rapidly.
- A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) without a human pilot, crew, or passengers on board. Drones can be flown via remote control or autonomously through a software-controlled flight plan.
- Drones can cost anywhere from $50 to $10,000 depending on the type of drone and the specifications it comes with.
- Real estate and wedding photography, aerial surveying, precision agriculture, search and rescue, inspection services, drone deliveries, and drone reselling are some of the ways you can make money with a drone.
- The median average salary of a drone pilot is around $82,000 a year. Hourly rates range widely depending on pilots’ level of experience and the quality of the photos and video footage they provide.
- Drone businesses have high start-up costs, with a drone and a capable computer being the two most expensive purchases.
- The average full-time drone photographer makes around $50,000 per year, or $24 per hour. You can charge more depending on the certifications, specifications of your drone, and level of experience you have as a pilot.