Fewer than 10% of drone pilots make a living from flying full-time, according to one recent survey, but it’s not all bad news.
First off, most drone piloting is a freelance job, meaning you can make it a part-time gig to earn side hustle money on top of a more traditional job. And second, the longer you stick around, the higher your odds of making money.
That’s according to the 2019 Drone Industry Survey by UAV Coach, a drone pilot community that also offers online drone training through its Drone Pilot Ground School. They survey gathered responses from 1,389 pilots between April and May 2019.
That might be disappointing for pilots looking to get rich off drones, but there’s also something interesting to note that may provide some silver lining. 61% of self-employed drone pilots who responded to they survey had been flying for a year or less, so it’s not surprising that they haven’t had time to build up clients and a portfolio of work.
Of the pilots who earned more than $10,000, the vast majority had been flying commercially for at least 1 year and many had been flying for two or more years.
Good news though if you prefer working for yourself, not a boss. Most drone pilots are self-employed. 25.8% of respondents said they were self-employed as a pilot, while 25% said they were a self-employed professional augmenting their existing business with drone piloting (such as working as a real estate agent or wedding photographer).
But there are people out there making big money off drones, and we’ve met people making six figures, without working for a boss.
Denver-based drone pilot Vic Moss, who is also a co-owner of the online community Drone U said in an earlier interview that flying drones part-time can earn you $500 or $600 a week. For many drone pilots, they’re doing those gigs just one or two times a year, hence the low figures in the survey results. Others take photos and sell them on stock photo sites to earn passive income. While it’s not a ton of income, it’s still a profit from what, for many, is a fun hobby.
But there are a handful of drone pilots doing those gigs each day.
Andrew Dean, who had been working as a waiter after leaving his job with the U.S. Air Force gave up his life as a waiter after investing in drone equipment, and now pulls in $200k annually.
His secret? Specializing. Dean said enrolling in a thermography certification course provided a big boost his skill set, adding that he lands most of his highest-paying gigs because of his thermography certification.
Of course, for a lucky few, there are full-time drone pilot jobs out there. Major companies like Uber have posted applications to apply for jobs as drone pilots.
And if you really want to make money in drones, the secret isn’t in flying them. It’s in writing the software to make them fly themselves. In fact, the CEO of French drone company Delair said the company plans to hire 60 employees this year, and most of the positions will be for software engineers.
How much money do you make as a drone pilot? Do you make money in the industry through other means beyond flying?