Many hobbyist drone pilots wish to pursue a full-time career as a drone pilot.
Drones are increasingly evolving each year, and most enterprises are implementing drones to facilitate changing industrialization.
How much do drone pilots make?
The average salary of a drone pilot in the US is about $83,000 per year. In Australia, a drone operator earns around $87,000 per year, whereas, in the UK, £27,000, but the wages are higher in London, between £33,000 and £60,000 per year. A drone pilot’s highest yearly pay in Europe is €52,000.
Getting a job as a drone pilot is not easy, but once you do, you can make a full-time career out of it in most countries.
This guide will cover all the basics of how much drone pilots make in different industries where drones are used.
How much does a drone pilot earn in the US?
The average drone operator’s annual income in the United States is $83,000, according to salary.com. Salaries range between $61,000 and $100,000.
Indeed.com reports an average drone salary is around $63,000 a year.
There are margins of information about a middle salary in the US for a drone pilot due to multiple factors at play:
- A drone job is classified under Drone Operator, Drone Pilot, or UAV Operator. Each comes with different results and statistics.
- Drones are relatively new and evolving; therefore, some industries have insufficient overall data for accurate figures.
And what you can earn in the US as a drone pilot depends on many factors, such as:
- Your experience and the industry you want to work as a drone operator. A drone operator can earn excellent money in the filmmaking and mining industries, but real estate and mapping may bring in less than average.
- The location you’re looking for a job is a core factor in earning as a drone operator. For instance, indeed.com says the average drone salary is $70k per year in Denver, CO. In Springfield, OR, it’s $73k annually, and in Dallas, TX, slightly under $50k annually.
In 2023, the federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25 per hour. In about all instances, drone operators should earn a lot more than minimum wage.
Since the number of commercial drone pilots is increasing in the US, the rates may decrease over time.
Let’s look at a few promising paid industries where you can make money as a drone pilot in the US.
- Mapping and surveying: The average price for drone mapping is between $100 and $240 per hour.
- Filmmaking industry: Although getting a drone job in the filmmaking industry is difficult, these are some of the best-paid jobs, with an average of $200 to $500 per hour or more.
- Construction: The average pay rate for a drone operator for land base surveying in construction is over $100k a year.
- Real Estate: The average pay for a drone operator in the real estate industry is close to $80k a year.
- Freelance drone operator: As a freelance drone operator, an average yearly salary is between $45k to $160k, averaging around $80k, according to ZipRecruiter.
Only the top 10 percent of drone operators can earn more than $120k per year, but this will reflect in long-time experience and expertise, top-notch gear, professional relationships, and an extensive portfolio.
What’s the salary of a drone pilot in the UK?
The data available for the average drone salary in the UK differs in each report.
In London, a drone operator can earn between £33k ($42k) and £60k ($77k) per year.
In the UK (outside London), the average base salary is around £27k a year.
Each salary report for a UK drone operator is much above the minimum wage of £10.42 per hour in 2023.
Some demanding drone operator jobs in the UK can earn as much as £100k per year ($128k), but rarely.
Making a comparison from the salaries earned in the United Kingdom and the United States as a drone pilot, in the US overall, you earn much more than in the UK.
As of the end of April 2022, over 181,000 drone operators are registered in the UK.
Does a drone pilot make good money in Australia?
According to the Economic Research Institute, the average salary for a UAV pilot in Australia is 113k AUD ($87k) per year.
Per hour, a drone operator in Australia can earn an average of 55 AUD ($36).
The living costs and minimum wage in Australia are higher than in the US, and the minimum wage is $23.23 per hour in 2023.
If you’re a drone engineer, expect to earn less at about $65k per year, equivalent in AUD.
One recent job in Australia as a drone pilot for geophysical surveys, with required skills and certificates, paid between $80k to $100k annually.
An RPAS Drone Trainer and Assessor can earn around $80k per year in Australia, whereas a remote drone technician averages between $60 to $110 an hour.
What are the salaries of a drone pilot across Europe?
Europe has 44 sovereign states and nations sharing borders, but each has its individual economy, salary, and drone laws regarding commercial applications.
Let’s enumerate a few European countries and their average salaries as drone operators.
- Germany: The average drone salary in Germany is €52,000 ($57k) a year or €25 ($27) per hour. A drone pilot in Germany makes between €36k ($39.5k) and €63k ($69k) per year.
- France: In France, the average drone operator salary is not that different from Germany, with an average of €50,000 ($55k) per year. Commercial drone pilots are usually paid between €34k ($37k) and €60k ($66k) per year.
- Italy: In Italy, drone operators are paid an average of €19 ($21) per hour, whereas yearly salaries range between €27,000 (nearly $30k) and €48,000 ($52k).
- Spain: A drone operator in Spain earns a little less than in Italy and much less than in Germany or France, with an average of €18 ($20) per hour or yearly €38,000 ($41,000), whereas drone pilots are paid between €27,000 ($30k on average) and €46,000 ($50k).
- Czech Republic: According to salaryexpert.com, the average drone pilot salary in the Czech Republic is around 569,000 Kč per year ($26,100) or 273 Kč per hour ($13). An entry-level drone job could earn 400k Kč ($18,400), whereas a senior drone pilot with experience can earn as much as 700k Kč per year ($32k).
- Netherlands: The average salary for a drone operator in the Netherlands is on average €51,000 ($56k), ranging between €35,000 ($38k) and €62,000 ($68k) with an average pay of €25 ($27) per hour.
- Sweden: A drone operator in Sweden is paid, on average, SEK 427k per year ($39,400) and a rate of SEK 206 ($19) per hour.
- Romania: Based on survey data, if you want to be a drone operator job in Romania, expect an average monthly pay of 9,900 RON ($2,200) or 52 RON per hour ($11.50).
- Hungary: In Hungary, a drone operator earns an average of 6.6 million Hungarian Forint annually, equivalent to $19,000 per year or HUF 3,200 ($9) per hour.
- Norway: A drone operator in Norway can expect decent salaries of around NOK 592,000 per year ($55k) or an hourly pay rate of NOK 285, equivalent to $27.
On average, drone operator salaries in most European countries are below the US and even below what a drone operator in London can earn.
In general, European countries are slightly undeveloped in commercial and industrial drone usage compared to the United States, which is why there’s little data and jobs you can find as a drone operator with higher competition.
Are drone pilot jobs going to be extinct in the future?
The usage of drones commercially in many industries nearly reached the apogee, meaning there will be quite some developments in the future of autonomous drones.
These will impact drone pilots looking for well-paid jobs, and competition will be fiercer.
The same thing happened to the photography industry, where the apogee was between 2000 and 2005.
A decline followed, and nowadays, earning a minimum wage salary in photography is difficult.
It will be a while until the drone industry gets much more saturated and autonomous drones will do a person’s job. But it will happen in the future, and drone pilots must adapt.
Moreover, with the news and the possibility of DJI and Autel being banned in the US, there could be a step back into the future of automatization with drones in most industries, and commercial drone pilots will encounter a more challenging way to make money.
Therefore, if you’re a drone pilot looking to earn money and persevere in making a living with your drone, now is the time.
Choosing a profession as a drone pilot
You must meet a few requirements to earn money as a drone pilot.
Before that, you need to take the big step and decide what type of professional drone pilot you want to be and what industry you want to enter.
Working as a freelance drone operator is the most common way to get gigs.
In this case, you must have your own gear (drones) and select an industry.
You must apply, list your services online, and build a reasonable portfolio with your work to earn an employer’s trust.
Moreover, as a freelance drone operator, you’ll have to negotiate your own rate; you may have to start lower, but as you get more experience, you can increase your cost.
You will also be responsible for getting the required authorization to fly your drone for commercial purposes in areas with no-fly zones and have certificates for different categories to widen your work area.
You can start by getting a commercial drone license, having a couple of drones to match the industry requirements you want to work in, and earning commercial insurance and essential certificates.
As you get more gigs, you will build up your portfolio. Then you can invest in more advanced gear and certificates and widen your working area.
Employed drone operator
This category is where different companies and services will employ you, and you will regularly work with them to fill the requirements when commercial drones are needed.
Some good examples are working as a drone operator in search and rescue services, construction, or agriculture, where you’ll be either part-time or full-time.
To get a job as a drone operator, you need a background in flying drones commercially, an experience you can obtain from being a freelance drone operator.
Now, you won’t have to search for gigs or set rates.
The company will be responsible for this, and you’ll probably have a reasonable salary based on your experience and industry.
Generally, these companies should have invested in drone gear and supported you to get all the certificates you need if you don’t have the required ones.
Another good example is working as a drone photographer employed by a real estate company. You’d capture different aerial shots of properties for sale.
» MORE: Best DJI Drones for Real Estate
Drone pilot company
This is not as widely spread as the other two categories, but there are agencies and companies where you and more drone pilots will have contracts with them.
They will be responsible for finding commercial drone gigs in different industries (depending on qualifications) for you and others, and you will probably be paid a fixed rate where they charge clients higher.
Being employed by a drone agency won’t guarantee you any work. You can have a few gigs per month or day, depending on many factors.
As a drone operator working for an agency, you may or may not need to have your own gear, and they should deal with insurance and all the qualifications you may need.
What industry should you focus more on as a drone pilot?
If you’re just starting out as a commercial drone pilot, look for industries with a lower barrier of entry.
This will ensure you get a drone job and begin making some money.
If you have commercial experience flying drones and qualifications that will allow you to fly in specific categories, you should aim for better-paying jobs.
For instance, emergency response drone services and surveying are paid much better than aerial photography and real-estate drone jobs.
One of the best-paid jobs as a drone operator is, by far, the filmmaking industry.
Getting a job as an emergency response drone pilot is more challenging as you will need more training and qualifications and possible employment within the service before getting hired as a drone pilot.
More demanding jobs will require more qualifications and experience.
What are your expenses as a commercial drone pilot?
Before earning as a drone pilot, you must invest in a drone, courses, certificates, and other necessary equipment, accessories, and insurance.
A drone that can be used professionally in most industries that doesn’t require a significant investment can cost up to $5,000.
Commercial insurance is often over $1,000 per year, depending on the type of drone you have, where you operate it, your qualifications, etc.
There are drone courses and certificates you have to get.
This is yet another expense that has to be calculated, and generally, it can reach a few thousand dollars.
It all depends on the qualifications and courses you’re interested in for the type of commercial drone work you want to get into.
There are also accessories such as multiple drone batteries, maybe a secondary drone, monitors, and other necessities that must be acquired when you want to fly commercially.
These expenses may differ from state to country, but generally, you must cover at least the basics to ensure you fly legally.
What skills do you need to have to earn as a drone pilot?
Firstly, you must be at least an intermediate drone pilot and know how to fly your drone well.
Then you need to be on top of all drone laws.
Depending on the country you live in and want to earn as a drone pilot, you will need drone insurance, certifications for different flight categories, and a commercial certificate to allow you to fly and earn legally.
Some background experience in the industry you want to earn as a drone pilot is recommended, but depending on the company you’re about to work for, they may train you with their specific requirements.
Also, knowing how to operate and work with drone mapping software is good practice for mapping and surveying.
You also need to have very keen attention to detail because, in most industries, drones are used for problem-solving and inspecting.
As a professional drone pilot, you must know how to plan flights, analyze data and be flexible.
Spacial awareness is another ability you must have for optimal flights and reducing risks.
Nearly all commercial pilots should know to drive a car, and either should have one or be offered one by the company they work for.
All drone jobs are remote; you must travel on-site with your equipment.
I don’t think taking the bus with a large suitcase full of expensive drone equipment is a solution.
You will learn various skills as a commercial drone pilot, but looking for a job may be difficult.
If you want to be a freelance drone operator, you must know how to reach customers, advertise your services and negotiate for the best rate you can get.
Do you need to have higher education to get a job as a drone pilot?
Higher education is not mandatory for most drone jobs, but having a degree can be advantageous.
In some drone jobs, such as working for emergency response services, you may need to undertake academy training depending on the state or country you’re seeking employment.
Most employers should have a program or regulations; you must be up to date with using drones for different services under the company’s name.
There are no drone universities or specializations in drones for anyone to ask something like that.
It’s not wrong to take courses, train, and earn certificates not only to operate in a riskier category but to sell your value and show your knowledge about flying expensive equipment.
Can you earn as an FPV drone pilot?
An FPV drone pilot can get a job in video making or filmmaking.
There is a higher demand for jobs as an FPV drone pilot, from simple FPV (Cinewhoop) shots of a bowling alley for advertising to shooting for big car companies.
A good example is Johnny FPV, who shoots videos with his FPV drones for Porche or Red Bull Motorsports.
These are some of the highest-paid jobs in the FPV world that are beyond what a commercial standard drone pilot earns.