How Lucrative Is a Drone Business? Legit UAV Business Opportunities

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As more and more advancements are made in the technology domain, the traditional businesses and jobs are substantially getting replaced by the creative and innovative ones. No longer are people today restricted to just the conventional professions.

For instance, you might have attended a social gathering recently and seen those flying machines capturing the entire event rather than the job being done by a traditional videographer running places to get the best shot. Just a few years ago it would have been an outrageous thought to witness something that exceptional. However, as more and more people are breaking the shackles around unventured territories, creative businesses like being a professional drone pilot have come to surface, and how!

While it looks all glamorous and adventurous on the surface, it can be quite overwhelming when you actually sit and think about how to start a drone business. There are licenses to be procured, a lot of research to be done as to where all do the drones have applicability and of course, calculating how lucrative really is it.

Ahead, let’s do a comprehensive check on what are the ways you can make money using drones and how profitable and viable is a drone business, along with other intricacies of the field.

Ways to Make Money with a Drone

As is with other professionals, there are multiple ways you can venture into the field. You can start your own business and build your clientele or you can opt for a job in the field, be it as a drone pilot or a service engineer and even teach others on how to fly a drone. From weddings to real estate to government contracts, there is a huge scope for a drone business today.

Set-Up a Drone Business

If you like being your own boss and love flying drones yourself, then starting up a drone business is the best way to go. You need to take the Part 107 test by FAA and once you clear it, you are legally certified as a drone pilot. The best part is, you don’t need a lot of infrastructures. You buy your drone, depending on the industry you are focused on, start building your clients and you are good to go. There are different ways you can make money by running a drone business:

  • Doing aerial wedding photography and videography.
  • Make and sell videos and short ads for the real estate firms, hotels and resorts, etc.
  • Conduct inspections for construction, insurance and other companies involved in the service industry.
  • Aerial surveillance and monitoring for investigative purposes for big corporations and private detective agencies.

Employment in the Drone Industry

Running a business is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you want to focus on just the drones and not the management part, getting a drone job might be the right way to go.

A lot of online portals have cropped up recently advertising jobs in the drone business. These could be part-time or full-time assignments, as per your preference. Portals like DroneBase hire pilots and further offer their services to their clients.

Whether you are running a drone business or trying to get a drone job, do try to attend as many meetups and related events you can to grow your network. The drone world is in its nascent stage, therefore, you will receive the maximum boost through word of mouth.

Other Gigs

You could also become a certified drone instructor and teach other aspiring drone pilots. You can do it offline, if you have a physical base, by calling your clients to a particular space where you instruct them. Or you could create your own course with lectures on how to become a drone pilot and upload them on online teaching portals like Udemy.

You could also become a UAV engineer and get paid handsomely for it since the industry is yet to evolve fully and the professionals are still in a dearth.

Starting a Drone Business

When it comes to starting a business, there is kind of a universal law that applies to all domains. You need to choose your domain and give your entire focus to it. Starting a drone business is similar. There are a plethora of domains where the services of a drone are applicable. You need to pick your niche and stick to it.

Depending on the kind of investment you can make in terms of the standard of the drone, you can pick the likes of real estate and wedding photography since the cost of entering into these are lower. You also need to keep honing your skills, since this business will primarily be driven by how well you can operate your drones and the quality you can offer your clients.

Drone Business Ideas

Let’s check out some ideas for businesses you can start with your drone.

  • Wedding Photography and Videography: This is the most basic and the simplest of all ideas that do not require a very high level of skill. A lot of people want their social events to be covered by a drone due to the glamor as well as higher quality of footage as well. The service is well paid for as well if you can make yourself stand out from the other drone cinematographers.
  • Advertising for Real Estates and Hospitality Industry: This is also one of the easy ways since real estate and hospitality companies pay quite well and you do not need an advanced setup for them. You can make good money by shooting ad films for these by covering their properties aerially. The competition is so stretched that the companies are desperate to have a unique aspect to their marketing and if you know how to work your drone well, you can provide it to them.
  • Land Mapping and Surveying: Construction companies, mining corporations, archaeological surveys, forest departments, agriculture – these are just a few industries that look for accurate and cost-effective methods for land mapping and surveying. Your drone is an answer to their problem. Drones are preferred for their easy mobility and being cheaper than a ground team to gather 3D data.
  • Inspection and Monitoring Jobs: Inspection jobs are for the highly skilled drone pilots since they have a risk involved. Utility companies like power grids, railways, telecoms, IT and others require inspection services for railways lines, mobile towers etc. you have to extremely careful while recording the footage, therefore, even though the inspection jobs pay a lot, go for them only after you have gained considerable experience and skills. You also need advanced equipment for these.
  • Delivering Goods: Drones are increasingly being used by e-commerce and other product companies to deliver orders. As a drone business, you can build up your own fleet and provide services to companies like Amazon to deliver their orders to the customers.

Required Licensing

Whatever purpose you are using a drone for, if you are making money out of it or intend to make money out of it, you need a commercial use license for flying/operating a drone. This includes every service from taking photographs at a wedding and selling them to inspecting rail lines and doing surveys for the archaeological or wildlife department using UAV.

You need to be above 16 years of age to be able to fly a drone and possess the Part 107 remote pilot certificate by FAA. To get the certificate, you’ll have to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA center. Otherwise, if you have a non-student Part 61 certificate, you are eligible for a Part 107 license.

Technical and Marketing Skills

Drone jobs can appear to be really attractive. However, unless you have gained some amount of experience in the craft, it’s recommended not to go out and start selling. You should also know a certain amount of engineering behind the drone which can come handy in case of any malfunction while at work. Don’t be dependent on external repair centers all the time.

Also, if you aren’t marketing well, you might have the most advanced skills, but it won’t help you. Attend tech conferences, social gatherings, meetups and other networking events to grow your network organically. You should also take the support of online advertising, which the best way to sell anything these days.

Define your niche and your client base and then target them according to the lacks that they face which can be fulfilled by your services.

Drone Photography Business vs Drone Inspections

There is a huge difference in undertaking drone cinematography services and inspection jobs. The equipment involved is vastly different, with the inspection work needing an advanced drone that costs substantially more.

The risks involved in inspection jobs are more severe as well. You need to be an expert in your skills to be able to deliver without any mishap.

Companies across industries are rapidly adopting the services of drone inspections to conduct monitoring, surveying and land mapping etc. Other inspection jobs include mining corporations, building inspections, infrastructure inspections like bridges, rail lines, cellular towers, power grids, etc. These are all highly skilled jobs and while they pay more than the photography jobs, the risk of a miscalculation is higher and the repercussions are more sensitive.

The aerial photography, on the other hand, is the most basic application of drones and does not an advanced skill set. Most drone operators tend to start with photography and videography gigs to gain experience and build their client base. The investment needed is also lower as you don’t an expensive drone for this purpose.

How Much Do UAV Businesses Bring in Annually on Average?

The amount of earnings you can drive through your drone business is dependent on the following:

  • The niche you are operating in;
  • The level of skill you possess;
  • The reach of your marketing efforts;
  • The pricing strategy of your competition.

Quoting a low price just to get the contract is not a sustainable way, although you might want to do some low-budget gigs, in the beginning, to build your portfolio and gain real experience.

You can set a fixed charge or figure out hourly charges for your services. In the long run, maintaining a fixed charge is more profitable since it allows you to multiply your income faster by focusing on the service offered rather than the hours.

The photo coverage using drones for industries like real estate and weddings can be charged as much as $200 per hour. The price varies according to the area you cover and the skill needed. The inspection and monitoring jobs pay way more but also require substantial investment.

Annually, a UAV business can make anywhere between $50,000 to as much as $200,000. Professional surveillance drone operators make on an average $50,000. It’s highly subjective since there is no set pricing at the moment.

Costs Involved

It does not take a lot of initial investment to start a drone business. You don’t need to have an office space or a team even if you are a solo entrepreneur, which reduces the management and administration costs.

You need to spend on buying a drone, the price of which will depend on the kind of service you are offering. For real estates, hotels and weddings, you can easily get a professional level drone, like Phantom 3 4K or DJI Spark for under $1000.

Drones for inspection jobs cost way more, around $25,000. The ones used in agricultural surveys can be bought for about $10,000-$15,000. These include the likes of DJI Agras MG-1 or Delair-tech drones.

Along with the drones, you’ll need to spend on getting some accessories like extra batteries, lens, memory cards, etc.

The FAA certification to use a drone commercially costs $150 and is valid for 2 years, which is pretty reasonable.

To be on the safer side and avoid paying a huge sum in case of any damages to your drone or due to your drone, it’s also recommended to get an insurance cover. The insurance rate is subjective to the price of the drone as well as your domain. For a drone like Phantom 3 4K, you would need to shell out about $700 a year for a $1 million cover.

The Final Word

The commercial drone market is expected to surpass $17 billion by 2024 with the advancements in UAV and its integration with new technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. The future of the UAV market looks full of possibilities with the drones being used in various industries including disaster mitigation and agritech.

While choosing your niche, pick the one you have some knowledge of working in. For example, if you worked as a wedding planner or an event manager, using your drone flying skills for wedding photography and videography would be a lot more advantageous than getting into building inspections.

For aspiring drone entrepreneurs, the time to strike is now, since the market is still not too organized and the spoils are up for grabs. Remain focused on the sector you want to build your expertise in, be it real estate advertising or weddings or agricultural mapping, surveying and inspection.

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