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Here’s how to make money with your drone

People will pay for an eye in the sky

Let’s face it, drones are everywhere. They’re in the air above your local park, inside every other Christmas present, dangling from that tree down the street… But wherever you may spot a drone, one thing’s for sure: A lot of people have got their hands on one, and they’re capturing plenty of great video. But is there a way to make money from something currently seen as a great hobby?

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Many people haven’t yet realized the potential of aerial photography. The biggest secret? Where there’s great video opportunities, there are also lucrative ways to earn some extra cash, or even build a career. Drones have allowed plenty of pilots to quit their jobs and venture off into the sunset doing what they love. If that sounds attractive to you, check out some of our ideas on how to make money with your drone. We’ve also included some estimated hourly rates, based on information sourced from drone marketplace droners.io.

Here’s how to make money with your drone

Here are just a handful of ideas on how to make money with your drone to help you get started. From beginner to professional there are numerous opportunities out there for any pilot. Anyone seeking to use a drone for business purposes in the USA will need to receive a Section 333 exemption from the FAA.

Aerial Inspections

Many drone pilots are already offering aerial inspection services around the world. These range from cell towers to bridges and even gas pipelines. The bottom line is this: Drones give you the chance to reach places that might traditionally be pretty dangerous for a crew of inspectors.

how to make money with your drone
Instagram – @ikaruscan

But as well as being safer, drones armed with high definition cameras can often complete the job a whole lot quicker, too. Just think how much pipeline can be covered by a drone compared to a man, or how quickly a drone can reach the top of a cell tower.

Inspections of various structures are expected to be among the most lucrative opportunities for commercial pilots, so why not get your license, FAA approval and get involved?

Companies like Sky Futures offer inspection services for certain industries, such as Oil & Gas. They combine drone services with cloud software, allowing clients to access, analyse, host and share all of the information gathered during a flight.

Earning potential: $200/hr

Mapping

Drones can come with some pretty clever software these days, some of which allows for accurate 3D maps to be produced from aerial video footage. Mapping services are needed in the agriculture, mining and real estate sectors, and a birds-eye view offers a quick and effective way of doing things.

agriculture software drone
Instagram – @PrecisionHawk | Clever software can be used in conjunction with on-board sensors to assess crop health

As software gets even smarter, it won’t be long before pilots are simply turning up, pressing a single button and watching as their drone gathers all the data – easy!

Keen to delve further into the world of mapping and aerial surveys? Check out Future Aerial.

Did you know?…

It’s not just about high definition video and imaging. LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) mapping instead depends on a laser scanner mounted onto your drone. This technology is can measure the height of points on the ground below. Equipped with a LIDAR scanner, you can cover huge expanses in just a few hours, and use the data gathered to develop detailed digital models of landscapes. LIDAR sensors also have the bonus of being able to penetrate dense forests and vegetation, making it possible to scan ground that would be invisible to satellites or standard imagery.

Earning Potential: $250/hr

Delivery

Amazon Prime Air
Amazon Prime Air

Currently the only thing stopping drone deliveries is us, the people. The technology is arguably in place, but public fears and potential interference are holding back progressive regulations. Having said that, it seems only a matter of time until drones are delivering your Amazon parcels. While there isn’t an obvious career in drone delivery right now, it may well be a viable career path in the coming years.

Banner Advertising

drone banner makes money
Instagram – @SayItWithDrones

“Hey, that thing can fly. Let’s attach a message to it and parade it over a large number of people!” This seems to be the logic behind drone banner advertising and, although it’s simplistic, there’s certainly a market for it. Having said that, regulations in many countries currently forbid flying drones over or near to crowds of people, so it’s probably going to remain a niche sector for now. But hey, that doesn’t stop you from charging your buddy a few dollars to strap “Will you marry me?” onto your drone and fly it over him having dinner with his girlfriend. Precision romance.   

Companies such as DroneCast are starting to spring up, dedicated to creating marketing campaigns and promotional moments with the use of drones. This can be something as simple as flying a banner with a message over an event, to managing an aerial light show above a music concert.

Precision Agriculture

Speaking of precision, farmers are making use of drones more than any other industry. On top of making the most of aerial mapping services to accurately mark out agricultural land, farmers have found a number of more ingenious solutions.

@precisionhawk / instagram
Instagram – @precisionhawk

For example, drones can be fitted with a range of sensors and cameras that can accurately assess how healthy crops are. Heat, infrared light and levels of moisture can all be measured from the air, allowing farmers to make smarter decisions and target areas in need of attention.

Want to find out more about drones in agriculture? Read our feature here.

But that’s not all, as regulations are gradually lessened to include flights out of sight of the pilot, we may see a revolution of agricultural drones, such as the Agras M1 from DJI, which can spray crops with pesticides autonomously.

PrecisionHawk is currently leading the way, in terms of both hardware and software. The company’s software allows farmers to look at all of the information gathered in phenomenal detail, while it’s hardware can either be bought or rented as a service.

Want to make money with your drone? Why not offer package services to farmers, from aerial mapping to crop health assessment.

Did you know?…

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, along with several other industry research reports, has predicted that in the next ten years drone agriculture services could account for 80% of all commercial drone use.

Fishing

Okay, this one might be a little ambitious, but there’s definitely foundations to it. Fishing and drones don’t sound like they should mix, but it’s possible, honest. It also gives us an excuse to include the awesome video below.

Drones are already being used at an industrial level by large fishing vessels, to track shoals of fish and target areas of high fish concentration. But on a smaller scale, perhaps drones could help out amateur fishermen in the future, both by scouting out the water from above, and also by carrying bait out to where the fish are.

Pilot Training

As long as there is a market for drones with commercial applications, there is going to be a huge need for qualified drone pilots. Whether that’s flying for agriculture, search and rescue, real estate mapping or aerial photography. With regulations slowly being implemented, it’s likely that in the near future the rules will not change regarding the need to have a license if you’re flying for money.

drone pilot training to make money
Instagram – @AxionDroneWorks

Because of this, there will always be demand for skilled teachers who can share their experience and expertise with the next generation of flyers. Why not be one of those?

Professional photography

Obviously, there’s a huge market out there for professional photography. Being armed with a drone should be enough to help you stand out from the crowd. Here are a few ideas to help get you started.

Weddings

money drone
Instagram – @WeddingDroneService

Weddings are an absolute goldmine, and wedding photographers can expect to make hundreds of dollars an hour. Add in some spectacular aerial photography and you’ve got yourself a fun, varied and exciting job. Looking for some inspiration? Check out Sky Vantage, a company which combines aerial wedding shots with a team on the ground to make sure all angles are covered.

Did you know…?

Wedding days are supposed to be unforgettable, and this is proven by the hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars regularly spent on photographers. An aerial video will be appreciated for years to come, and could be the perfect way to elevate – no pun intended – memories of the day.

Sporting Events

Several sports events, particularly in the world of snowsports, have already embraced drone technology for filming purposes. Even coaches across the major European soccer leagues are using drones to film and assess training sessions from above. Interested in both sports and flying? Why not set up an aerial photography business dedicated to sports?

Did you know?…

This category doesn’t just apply to big media organizations looking for aerial camera operators. Sometimes smaller is better, and you’d be surprised how many amateur extreme sports fans would appreciate a few hours of awesome drone footage.

Real Estate

The world of real estate is quickly emerging as a go-to business opportunity for professional drone pilots. Not only are drones used to provide accurate aerial surveys for people buying and selling property. But they are also being used to help create incredible marketing videos, as naturally, views from above offer an ideal perspective for looking over luxury real estate.

drone making money
Instagram – SkysTheLimitDrone

Get a few luxury realtors on your client list and you’ll be making money in no time. American startup Above Summit is one company to check out for a closer look at using drones in Real Estate, although they also cover sporting events and corporate movies.

Did you know…?

It’s not necessarily just realtors that are keen to appeal to customers with aerial video of property. Your clients could include universities wanting to showcase the campus from above, or a local golf course looking for promotional media.

Security and Surveillance

security drone money
Instagram – SafetySecurityDrone

Security services, police and private investigators could all be using drones in the near future. When it comes to staking out a building or surveying someone from above, drones provide an effective, unobtrusive way of doing so. It’s a niche market, but a market nonetheless.

Hotels and Resorts Marketing

Just as realtors are increasingly using drones to promote luxury property, hotels and tourism companies are a great bet for pitching your piloting services. Not only will they want similar, awe-inspiring video that only a drone can provide, but you might also get a few trips on the house!

News Footage

Just a photographers can build up freelance relationships with a range of media outlets, you can easily do the same from an aerial perspective. Alternatively, approach a local news station and see if you can provide them with some bird’s-eye footage. This is a market currently being held back by regulations due to privacy concerns, but it shouldn’t be too long before it’s a viable business opportunity.

Racing, obviously

The holy grail for many a drone pilot will be a professional contract as a drone racer. FPV drone racing is a sport beginning to take off around the world, with a number of domestic leagues in the US and international competitions springing up. As major TV networks such as ESPN begin to buy into the sport, you can bet that there’ll be some pretty big prize money for the best pilots.

Earlier this year a 16 year old from England won $250,000 at the first ever Drone Grand Prix in Dubai.

A top tip

JOIN A MARKETPLACE

More and more drone marketplaces are popping up on the web. They are places pilots can be hired, and customers can find just the video they are looking for or need shot. Some of the sites below are a few examples of places you can register as a pilot and show off your reels (if you’re selected) in an effort to be hired by potential customers. Most sites will review every pilot before approving them as a pilot to ensure they have obtained an FAA 333 exemption, which is required by the Federal Aviation Administration to commercially operate a UAV, or drone.

Under this exemption, the PIC (pilot in command) must hold either an airline transport, commercial, private, recreational, or sport pilot certificate. The 333 exemption is the backbone to the rule book on flying drones commercially. If you want to get paid, the FAA requires you obtain your 333 exemption. To learn more about the exemption, click here. If you are able to obtain it, you’ll have plenty of great opportunities at your fingertips!

The prices on drone marketplaces such as Droners.io can vary drastically. Customers offer everything from $300 for a promotional video to more than $10,000 for a professional gig for a TV show with editing. Droners.io makes money by taking a percentage from each transaction: 10% with a maximum of $1,000. You could even setup your own marketplace.

How do you make money with your drone?

We’d like to hear your ideas and post them here. Feel free to leave comments or email us and we’ll credit you with the contribution!

 

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Written by Malek Murison

Malek Murison is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the latest trends in innovation.

Follow him on Twitter @malekmurison or visit his personal site at malekmurisonmedia.com.

12 Comments

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  1. This article broadens the horizons of drones being used as a thing for hobbies to something that can generate money. Thanks to this article, I became so eager to learn more about it.

  2. I really found this to be the most amazing and educative article so far on the internet…. I’m really eager to gain more knowledge as I prepare myself to get in the world of commercial drones. Please keep us posted with more information.

  3. so in this rapidly growing industry is it to late for me to start a business in commercial drone…and also how can you found a job in the commercial drone company

    • Yes.. too late I’m afraid. The window of opportunity for a commercial drone business has come and gone. Hang in there though. The next great opportunity is right around the corner!

  4. Im ready to embark on this journey been thinking of setting up a drones bussiness in the UK for the last 6 months, but now its time for actions before its to late and passes me by. Thanks for this article, I dont think it too late for anyone to start, the guys at my pilot school said despite the increacing in intrest in drone pilots and the number exploding the demand is also growing at the same if not bigger pace. Its such a cost saving for business to use a drone over humans, especially for ariel inspections. Thanks for the article

  5. All these drone schools popping up selling the fantasy that you can make money with drones. Everyone thinks they can make all this money . Well it’s bullish . First off, I am an actual pilot, I am around airports , pilots and all things aviation a lot and let me tell you Certified flight instructors ( people who teach flying ) are starving . I have both my pilots license and my UAS remote pilot and I have not made 1 thin dime of drones . When I have done camera flying for people wanting video , they expected me to do it free ; for whatever reason , people attribute photography and video as something that should be free, I have even had the county of Denton want me to give them beach vids for free . Everyone is on board to have you do these drone things till you ask for pay. I tried to get with real estate : no Beuno cuz realtors they will buy a drone and Illegally fly their drone to get video and yea , your 28 thousand dollar flight education is pretty worthless . I tried to get into surveying and that was sketchy at best as for ag flying , not as of yet . Most people have no idea about airspace , rules, TFRS , FAR AIM NOTHING but yea everyone thinks they can fly . I may wind up being a flight instructor but I would never tell anyone the bs these drones schools preach .

  6. Speaking as a pilot ( someone who flys actual aircraft ) these drone schools popping up are selling a lot of gold chains . Don’t believe hype . I have multiple aviation certificates and I live in dfw – I have found 0 drone work .

  7. wow, awesome article thanks for sharing! I very much want to get into filming real estate videos with a drone, I’m an experienced filmmaker however have never flown a drone. I’m currently trying to decide what drone to buy and came across this article – http://www.droneriot.com/best-drones-for-commercial-use/ which suggests the DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Do you know if is it possible to learn on such a drone, or should I buy a cheaper one first to learn on. From what I understand the Phantom 4 has some form of sensors that prevent it from crashing? Are these reliable or more just for show?

    Thanks again, fantastic piece of work!

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