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How to Become a Drone Pilot

Are you tech-savvy and like to fly drones in your free time? If so, this may be the ideal job for you. As a Drone Pilot, you will operate a drone under an unmanned aerial system. Drones are flown remotely, which means you’ll be operating remotely and be known as a “Remote Pilot.” Duties that are associated with being a drone pilot include checking the safety of a drone before a flight takes off to make certain that everything goes smoothly, analyzing weather conditions before flights, documenting flight logs, and helping steer the drones along the designated routes. This job position requires an associate degree, as well as a Pilot Certificate acquired by the FAA. Other preferred skills include working with different varieties of drones, as well as having 4+ years of experience flying crafts like drones.

Sample job description

[Your company name] is searching for an experienced drone pilot. We are in need of someone who has exceptional communication and leadership skills who is responsible and able to work full time. A drone pilot is responsible for operating a drone and making sure it stays on course and landing it safely. Depending on the drone, there will be times that you will need to work a camera. Your main duties will include maintaining drones, planning flight paths, assembling maps, and gathering data, footage, and digital images. You will need to hold a Federal Aviation Administration Remote Pilot Certificate also known as the Part 107 license, and at least 40 hours of documented flying experience. Any other certificate applicable to drone pilots is a plus. If you have the skills to work well under pressure or stressful situations, are organized, have excellent mechanical skills, are tech-savvy, detail-oriented, and have great problem-solving skills, then you would be a perfect addition to our company!

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Check drones before a flight to ensure safe and proper operation
  • Analyze weather forecasts to ensure safe flights
  • Document pre- and post-flight logs
  • Monitor drones during flight
  • Plan drone flight routes
  • Navigate drones along designated paths 
  • Gather information or produce aerial photographs, as needed 
  • Perform equipment testing, troubleshooting, and maintenance

Education and experience

This position requires an associate degree and a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. Some employers prefer that job candidates have bachelor’s degrees.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Strong communication skills
  • Robust problem-solving abilities 
  • Excellent electronic and mechanical skills 
  • Expertise in multitasking 
  • Keen attention to detail 

Preferred qualifications

  • Excellent pilot skills
  • 4+ years of experience working for another company as a drone pilot
  • Experience with multiple different types of drones
  • Excellent photography skills

Typical work environment

Drone pilots are used in a variety of industries like the military, government organizations, agriculture, environmental, film, and mapping specialists. Therefore, the environment varies and could include film sets, countryside, or even indoors. For the most part, they work outdoors regardless of rain, sunshine, or any other conditions, spending hours making sure they accomplish what the client ordered. They typically work non-traditional hours if they are self-employed and those who aren’t self-employed work an average of 40 hours per week.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a drone pilot are from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, some drone pilots may work non-traditional hours, depending on the needs of their employer. 

Available certifications

To become a drone pilot, there are many certifications one may want to receive. Popular ones include:

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Remote Pilot Certificate. This certificate is also known as the Part 107 license or the drone license. In order for you to be able to fly a drone for work or business purposes, you need to have this certification as part of the FAA guidelines. This certificate is valid to be used in all U.S. states and territories and needs to be renewed every 2 years. There are many online test preparation courses for the FAA certification, we recommend this one.
  • Southern New Hampshire University’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Certificate. This certification can help improve the skill sets of those who plan to work in emergency management, insurance, first responder, or even in infrastructure inspection. It can also help prepare you for the Part 107 remote certification exam. This is an affordable certificate that can definitely put you above other candidates.
  • University of New Hampshire Drone (UAV/UAS) Operator Certificate. For this certificate, you can pick from 5 different elective workshops and need to complete at least 4 workshops to receive the certificate. This certificate helps inform you of the safety protocol and equipment used as a drone pilot. Although this certificate isn’t required it is beneficial to have if you are going to fly a drone for business purposes.

Career path

The path to becoming a drone pilot begins with an associate degree and a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. Some employers prefer that job candidates have a bachelor’s degree. After drone pilots gain experience, they can advance to working commercially, filming for movies and television, or building a career in videography or photography. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 17-3024

2020 Employment13,400
Projected Employment in 203013,100
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 2% decrease
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift200 decrease

According to Forbes, one trend that will affect the drone industry is the advancement of imaging sensors, software, and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. This evolution gives drones image recognition and allows them to be more lightweight. Another upcoming trend is the increase in regulation. The FAA may implement a requirement for remote identification of all drones flying in the U.S.