How Much Money Do Drone Pilots Make? And Can You Make The Same Amount?

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Flying drones had been my dream job for years. However, life happened, and I ended up in a different career. 

“How much money do drone pilots make?” Answering this question helped me find the knowledge and courage to switch careers and confidently pursue my dream work.    

This article offers all you need to know about drone pilot salary. You may use it to make a well-informed decision and avoid wasting as much time as I did. 

How Much Does a UAV Drone Pilot Make?

Pilots of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, have differing salaries, depending on multiple factors. Your skill, experience, industry, and region affect your earnings. 

According to ZipRecruiter, a UAV drone pilot earns an average of $64,067 annually. This figure translates into around $30.80 per hour, $1,232 per week, or $5,339 monthly. It shows annual earnings as low as $24,000 and as high as $183,500. 

The average pay range incorporates considerable variations. ZipRecruiter categorizes the earners into percentile groups. The 25th percentile gets $35,500, and the 75th percentile earns $69,000. Additionally, the top pilots are getting $160,000 annually across the US.

The pay varies according to different aspects, including experience and skill. Other factors such as industry and region also affect the salary rates. Let’s look at the average pay a UAV drone pilot makes in three major categories:

Region

Different states and cities have varying salary rates for drone operators. This variation may require you to consider moving to a new area for better pay. 

So, how much money do drone pilots make by region? Here are the top cities with paying rates above the national average:

CityHourly SalaryAnnual Wage
Maple Grove, MN$33.76$70,211
Sunnyvale, CA$33.94$70,601
Alexandria, VA$34.17$71,082
Jackson, WY$34.18$71,096
Oakland, CA$34.37$71,480
San Jose, CA$34.73$72,229
Marysville, WA$35.48$73,805
Fremont, CA$35.91$74,689
San Francisco, CA$36.77$76,478
Santa Clara, CA$38.01$79,051

Industry

Various sectors need drone utility to different degrees, resulting in varying salaries. Here are a few industries to help you gauge salary expectations as a drone flyer:

IndustryHourly salary
Energy$150
Telecommunications$100-$200
Filmmaking$100-$400
Transportation $100
Real estate$50-$100

Experience

They wisely say that experience is the best teacher. When considering a drone pilot salary, it is the best earner. 

Experience plays a considerable role in boosting your pay grade when flying a UAV. The beginner gets around $41.21 on average per hour. On the contrary, the experience can get you up to $74.04 every hour. 

The table below simplifies drone pilot earnings by experience level:

Experience levelHourly salary 
Entry$41.21
Experienced$53.91
Senior$74.04

Moreover, education is not a significant factor in determining a drone pilot salary. Someone with a Ph.D. gets $78,389, while another without a degree receives $74,684. 

A pilot with less than two years of experience gets approximately $70,061. Operators with 10 to 14 years of experience receive an average of $82,522 per year.

The Highest Paying Drone Pilot Jobs

Using the proper approach and skills, you can get the highest-paying drone pilot tasks. Here are three primary job types with opportunities for lucrative earnings, as per DroneU: 

Survey and Mapping

Drones can conduct high-quality topographic surveys and mapping. They deliver the same quality results you get via traditional methods. Nonetheless, drones accomplish this task in a relatively short time with less site survey expenses. 

Drone pilots working in survey and mapping are some of the highest industry earners. On average, this job types have a salary of $115,000, with an hourly rate of $56.  

Photography and Videography

Several companies and industries turn to drones to undertake photography and videography projects. Real estate is one of the biggest markets with a high demand for drone pilots.   

Multiple listing services (MLS) statistics indicate that properties featuring aerial imagery are 68% more likely to sell than those without it. Drone video and photography are imperative for luxury listings to provide stunningly beautiful displays for clients.  

The high job demands and profitable returns for real estate agents make this category a high-paying job type. Property drone pilots can earn an average of $107,500 annually, receiving a rate of $51 each hour.

Monitoring and Inspection 

A UAV integrates a monitoring system to get wide-area coverage of distant sensors. It also captures high levels of accuracy and details of ground monitoring and inspection. The drone achieves this goal at a low cost.

The UAV mirrors a helicopter, carrying measuring devices under it to collect comprehensive data from low altitudes. Despite operating in the air, its accuracy and resolution resemble ground surveying and mapping.  

You can operate a UAV drone to gather information safely and efficiently for power line inspections and pollution monitoring. It is also ideal for railway track inspection and monitoring and detecting disasters.  

This role provides a yearly salary of $100,600 and hourly pay of $48. 

How to Earn Money Flying Drones?

“Who hires drone pilots?” It is essential to address this question to know better how to make money operating drones.  

Any person desiring to utilize a drone for business purposes recruits a pilot. Some industries depend more on these operators than others. 

For instance, construction and agriculture highly demand commercial flight services. The television and film industries heavily rely on UAV pilots for videography and photography.    

You can find three possible ways to earn by flying drones – freelance, professional, and military.

Freelancing 

The first employment category a drone pilot can consider is freelancing. Freelancing features pilots that work on a contract basis for various clients. It is ideal if you wish to maintain more control over your work rates and schedule.  

It also provides an excellent opportunity for new operators to get their name in the market. You can work with drone-specific listing and hiring sites or freelance service providers like Upwork

Freelancing offers great freedom and flexibility. With freedom comes great responsibility. For instance, you are responsible for negotiating rates and finding the necessary business insurance and licenses.

It isn’t easy to find an exact quote of freelance earnings since many factors influence the rates. Freelance drone pilots can receive between $35 and $150 per hour. This salary gives a median wage of $85.   

Freelancing jobs are common among temporary projects. You can freelance for a company seeking a drone pilot for limited tasks such as:

  • Training 
  • Surveying
  • Photography  

Professional 

This category offers permanent work where a company employs professional drone operators. 

Full-time pilot employees can make between $80 and $120 per hour. This range provides a median wage of $95. 

Looking at the freelance salary above, you can see that freelancers can earn higher hourly wages.

However, unlike freelancing, professional jobs offer consistent income. It might be a suitable employment option if you prefer stability and working with a team.  

Some potential jobs in this category include:

  • Architectural firms
  • Delivery companies
  • Emergency services

Military

The military is another way you can use to make a living as a drone pilot. As per Indeed, a drone pilot in the US Army gets approximately $62,566 annually on average. This wage is 35% above the national average. The site also shows low earners at $14,000 and the highest pay at $144,000. 

Potential tasks requiring your skills as a military drone operator include:

  • Surveying
  • Mapping
  • Videography
  • Photography
  • Emergency response services
  • Investigation

How to Get Started Earning

It is good to know salary expectations in theory – understanding the preparations to make to begin earning as a drone pilot is even better. Below are a few tips you might find helpful in starting to make a living: 

Practice With a Cheaper Drone

Shawn Allen once stated that skill comes from consistent and deliberate practice. Practice is crucial to developing your drone-flying techniques. It enables you to deliver better products, qualifying you for higher pay rates. 

An excellent recommendation is to get a cheaper drone for the rehearsal. If you are a beginner, you can confidently use it to grow your skills. It is also easier to try skillful maneuvers with a cheaper drone. You do not have to ponder about wasted investment if the device falls from the lack of perfect control.  

Take a Course

Many people often see drone pilots and view the task as a casual hobby. It does not even come to their mind that the flyer possesses qualified education to accomplish the work. Yet, you can take courses to become a professional pilot and advance your career. 

It is wise to understand the FAA requirements before picking a course to prepare for the test. You want to be proficient in your application field since drone pilot jobs typically need additional specific skills.

Pass Your Part 107 Exam

The Part 107 exam is an FAA examination that gives you a drone-flying license. You can earn penalties for operating the unmanned aerial vehicle without certification. 

This Aeronautical Knowledge Test qualifies you to fly a drone commercially.  

Apply and Advertise

As I mentioned, you can apply for a professional and permanent job if you seek stability and consistency. It is necessary to keep in mind that this option is highly competitive since it includes experienced prospects. 

Once you have your skills perfected and commercial license, you apply for a job. You also want to advertise your skills by creating a quality profile. 

Alternately, you could start as a freelancer and apply via freelancing websites. Freelancing typically offers the best point to begin as a newbie in drone piloting. 

FAQs

Here are some of the most common questions about making a living by piloting drones.

Can you make a living by becoming a drone pilot?

Although different factors influence a drone pilot’s earning potential, it can provide a worthwhile career. Business size or type and regional pay differences are some elements that cause challenges in this field. 

Nevertheless, you can make a living as a drone pilot with motivation and the right skills. The increasing need for drone services opens doors to interesting job prospects. They offer a chance to earn steadily and big, depending on your project and ability. 

Working as a drone pilot can be lucrative. You can receive six-figure earnings with strong technical skills and a few years of experience.  

You can start a drone-based business to progress your career. It can be highly profitable when using the right approach. You can make your living by delivering valuable drone services to customers.

Is there a demand for drone pilots?

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, requires a pilot always be in command of a drone. In addition, the agency has unmanned flight rules that demand a pilot to operate one drone at a time. 

These regulations mean the unmanned aerial vehicle field has a demand for drone pilots. 

Moreover, the market witnesses an increasing demand for drones from the government and commercial sectors. 

A Research and Markets report shows expected growth in drone services’ market size. It predicts a 55.9% compound annual growth rate over the next three years. 

With drones lacking full automation, the human supervision required translates into several job opportunities in the growing market. 

What does the future look like for drone pilots?

Someone once wisely said, “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” The future appears bright for drone pilots. 

If you wish to work in this field, now is the time to pursue your dream career. As mentioned above, the predicted market growth will bring more job opportunities.

Learning or improving drone-flying skills prepares you for a successful future. There is no ceiling on the salary you can obtain once you get the proper training and certification. Besides, the knowledge, combined with more industries investing in drones, readies pilots for success in today’s economy.

Summary 

There you have it! Now you have the necessary information to answer the question, “How much money do drone pilots make?” Looking at the piece above, you get an idea of how much to expect in different industries and regions. 

Do you have years of drone-flying skills? Are you a newbie seeking to begin a career in unmanned aerial vehicles? Whatever your skill set and reasons, it is possible to make a living as a drone pilot. If you want to learn about the salaries involved, this may be an excellent place to start.  

Photo of author

AUTHOR

Keith Moreau is the founder and chief editor at Flyver.co. His aim? Simple. Cut through the jargon and help you fly better and safer with your drone.

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