There are many profitable industries for drone pilots to work in, however, some are more profitable than others.
This article will discuss the varying degrees of profitability that industries can have for a drone pilot and which are the best.
Construction – is it profitable to work as a drone pilot?
To begin our analysis of industries that are most profitable for drone pilots, we have the construction industry.
Nowadays, many construction companies have a full-time drone pilot on staff because they have so many projects they need to coordinate and manage that it makes sense to keep a drone pilot on retainer.
However, other companies may wish to use a trusted drone service provider. In most cases, the drone service provider will make more money and have a more profitable time providing their range of services when opposed to a construction company with a drone pilot on staff.
The drone pilot hired as an employee of the construction company would more than likely get paid hourly or on salary whereas a drone service provider would normally get paid by the job.
Construction progression – less profitable in the short term
In construction, there are many avenues of drone service that are profitable. Simply taking photographs and video is an excellent way for a pilot to make a continuous stream of income from a construction company.
In this case, these photos are known as construction progression photos. The point of these photos is to document project progress for the construction company, for the project sites funding the work such as a bank, and even for the clientele who the construction company is building the structure for.
These photos can also be used in lawsuits, such as if an entity does not pay the construction company for the work, claiming no progress has been made.
This is a fairly profitable way to get income from a construction company as a drone pilot. However, it is more than likely one of the lowest-paid options per job.
Construction drone mapping – very profitable in the short term
Moving on to mapping for a construction company, a drone pilot can charge a flat-rate fee or hourly for the map and model products. These models can be very useful to the construction company.
Not only is there a high degree of skill and knowledge required in this area of construction, but also software to create the maps and models is not cheap.
Overall, this means that a drone pilot can sell a construction company a orthomosaic, which is a 2D high-definition image of the construction site.
This is going to be used for construction progression as well. A topographic or contour map created by the drone pilot might sell for more because it provides numbered information to the construction company on whether they are at grade, near grade, or behind the grade.
Constructing a 3D model from the drone mapping mission is also useful to the construction company because you can extract measurements such as volume perimeter or area. Giving a construction company these hard numbers allows you to sell the product for more and is quite profitable for the drone pilot.
Construction inspections – moderately profitable in the short term
Inspecting the building with a drone is also another way a pilot can create an income, but this is more of a one-time job if you’re a drone service provider, as the building only needs to be inspected every so many years.
If you work for a construction company as a drone pilot, this is going to be something you like to do very often as your company may have building going up all over the place that need inspecting.
Corporate social media / commercial production – Moderate-highly profitable
The last topic we’ll cover for a profitable stream of income for a drone pilot in construction is creating commercials for the company and social media if you work for a construction company.
As a drone pilot, this is a large part of what you’ll likely be doing most of the time since your company will not always have a mapping job, construction progression job, or inspection project for you.
As a drone service provider, this could be extremely profitable as you’re producing a commercial that will be aired on the Internet to millions.
Most profitable job in construction? Depends on the timetable.
Out of all these services for construction companies, it is likely that in the short term, a construction mapping mission. or commercial production would be the most profitable. In the long term, construction progression may be the most profitable.
Real estate drone work – is it profitable?
Real estate is an industry that demands drones to be used to take aerial pictures and videos of houses and metropolitan commercial buildings. If a drone pilot can get consistent work, real estate is extremely profitable.
Commercial and residential real estate – low to moderately profitable
When it comes to real estate, the most profitable avenue for a drone pilot is commercial real estate. This is because the value of these buildings is much higher than residential real estate.
For some drone pilots, this is their entire career because it’s such a profitable one.
However, the market is relatively full of commercial drone pilots so individuals will have to take up shooting real estate interiors and exteriors as well.
While less profitable, this is still a steady stream of income. Shooting photos and videos and charging market prices is not a bad stream of income, but it falls second to shooting commercial real estate.
Mapping – a very profitable source of income
Mapping in real estate is largely underutilized and only large developers and real estate agents and investors will want you to map the property.
However, if they do choose to hire a drone pilot to map the property, you can charge fairly large amounts to provide the service since they do not have the means to do it themselves nor the knowledge to construct an accurate and detailed map or model.
Most profitable drone work in real estate – commercial photography and videography
This form of real estate drone work is going to rival commercial real estate photography and videography.
In the end, since it is so underutilized, and in some cases unnecessary, commercial videography and photography as a drone pilot would have to be the most profitable source of income for a drone pilot.
Drone inspections – are they profitable?
Another very profitable stream of income for a pilot is inspections.
As we discussed previously, inspections in construction can be profitable but may fall lower and be beaten out by other services in the field.
However, if you were to do inspections as a drone pilot as your main service, you may be able to charge more because there are so many ways to complete aerial inspections.
Standard RGB inspections – low to moderately profitable
One way is the standard RGB inspection taking photos and videos of rooftops and buildings with unreachable places.
Since there is such a demand and a need for drones to see places that are hard to reach or rooftops that may be difficult or unsafe to climb, you’ll be able to charge good amounts for this work.
Compared to shooting residential real estate, this is going to be a more profitable stream of income and in some cases, a steadier one.
Thermal infrared inspections – moderately profitable
Another way to perform inspections with a drone as a commercial pilot is to use thermal cameras mounted on your drone to look for heat leaks.
Heat leaks form because there are errors, tears, or rot in a building, sometimes even new construction.
Homes and buildings can be very old, so these leaks are bound to happen, and as buildings age, more of this will occur.
You’ll be able to charge more for these thermal inspections than you will for standard RGB camera inspections and videos. You will have to have some knowledge of how to use a thermal infrared camera. Otherwise, you’ll be lost in the data that you are providing to the client.
So while there is a barrier to entry using thermal cameras to inspect homes, you may be able to profit more.
3D Models for inspections – highly profitable
Another way to inspect homes and structures is to create 3D models of them.
While this is not the most sought-after form of inspection, it is an extremely useful one.
Since there is software that goes into creating the 3D model as well as the experience needed to create it, you can likely charge more for this than you would thermal imaging or using standard RGB camera photos and videos.
With a 3D model, the client will be able to inspect the building themselves having the entire building as a reference point to identify any cracks or damages in the structure.
While this is likely the service you could charge the most for, it is also going to likely be the most inconsistent work as many clients do not wish to have a full 3D model of their home for the price that most drone pilots would charge for it.
Most profitable form of drone inspection – thermal infrared imaging
Overall, it looks like when it comes to inspections, completing thermal inspections is likely going to be the best choice for making a large profit.
Is becoming an artistic drone pilot profitable?
Pretty much all commercial drone pilots are shooting photos and videos whether they are mapping, completing inspections, or taking pictures of homes.
However, pilots that specialize in photography or videography have a chance to make much more than other drone pilots because of the clients they’re dealing with.
Drones in cinema – risky, but extremely profitable
The pool that a drone pilot would be selected from for this job is very small. This is one of the most profitable streams of income for a drone pilot because if you are a professional drone pilot shooting a movie, you stand to make hundreds of thousands of dollars per film.
For instance, Michael Bay, the director of Transformers, has implemented many drone pilots young and old when making his newer movies. This is because he respects and is aware of the cinematic qualities that drones can produce and the insane visuals they can provide.
Below is a video showing a 19-year-old drone pilot who was hired by Michael Bay to film scenes in his movie. This drone pilot was an FPV pilot.
FPV pilots stand to make quite a bit of money because their skills are usually higher than a standard drone pilot. The reflexes are faster. The risk to the drone is higher and so is the reward of the footage.
FPV racing/Drone racing – is it profitable?
While focusing on FPV pilots, drone racing has become something of a mainstream trend. This is because pilots have to be extremely skilled, and at this skill level, the races are furious.
As mentioned before, the pool of drone pilots that can ascend to this level of skill is very small. The payoff to some of these drone racing tournaments can be in the millions.
The companies supporting these races as well as the tickets being sold to watch fund these events (and millions watch).
Usually, a drone team is made up of four or five people having different jobs such as spotter, pilot, coach, etc.
If a drone pilot was to ascend to this level of skill and win a tournament, they would likely make more money than a real estate photographer makes in half a lifetime.
You could easily compare these pilots to NBA athletes or NFL athletes!
It is likely that the pool of pilots will grow larger, but the top one percent will grow smaller. It is also likely that the number of fans supporting the sport will grow, increasing the money involved in winning.
Final thoughts – what industry is most profitable for drone pilots?
Overall, there are many ways to profit from being a commercial drone pilot. Being an FPV racer certainly takes the cake. Making millions from one day of racing is hard to beat.
However, since there are only a small number of pilots that going to ascend to the skill level, the second-most profitable industry for a drone pilot to work in is commercial real estate videography.
While yes, there is already an established number of pilots working in this industry, there’s always room for more. But who knows, you may become one of the best drone racing pilots in the world!