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How to Make Money With a Drone [9 Options for (2024)]

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Are you interested in the idea of flying a drone for money? You’re not alone.

As of 2023, there are around 855,860 drones registered in the US by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 63% are used for recreational purposes, while 37% are used for commercial operations.

Drones are used for various purposes, including surveillance, weather monitoring, aerial imaging, search and rescue operations, and more.

There’s more to flying drones for money than buying and learning how to operate one. You have to take into account factors such as authorization and insurance.

This article will highlight everything you need to know about making money with a drone, from how much you can make and what you’ll need to get started to the problems you may encounter in the process.

Let’s get right into it!

Can You Make Money With a Drone?

Absolutely! Making money with a drone is possible, and there are several avenues and choices to explore with this side gig.

However, as with any side hustle like making money with a car or petsitting, this isn’t without its challenges, especially if you’ve never owned or flown a drone.

From choosing the right equipment and going through proper training to licensing and insurance, you’ll need to invest a good deal of money, time, and hard work into pursuing this side hustle. 

How Much Can You Make Flying a Drone?

According to Glassdoor, drone pilots make an average yearly salary of around $77,000. However, keep in mind that the amount of money drone pilots make can vary based on industry and experience.

Drone U indicates that drone pilots in the film and video industry make around $69,000 a year, whereas the ones in the mapping and surveying industry make around $88,000 a year.

Drone U also indicates that a beginner drone pilot can expect to make around $41 per hour, while a professional drone pilot (10 or more years of experience) can make around $74 per hour.

Other factors that influence a drone pilot’s pay include location and footage quality.

What You’ll Need to Make Money With a Drone

Making money with a drone isn’t as simple as buying a drone, flying it around for a few days, and then approaching potential clients.

To start making money with a drone, make sure you have the following:

  • Equipment: From nano drones to large drones, there’s a wide range of options to choose from. Consider factors such as flying time, drone flight range, camera quality, speed, and GPS. You might also need a computer, editing software, and additional cameras.
  • Training: You must know how to operate your drone. Though it looks easy, it requires quite a bit of training. You can learn from a mentor, opt for online drone pilot courses, or enroll in a community college course.
  • Insurance: Getting your expensive drone insured is important for protecting your investment. After all, flying a drone can be risky, especially if you’re a beginner drone pilot.
  • License: Lastly, you need to obtain a license from the FAA to be able to use your drone commercially. A drone license is formally known as Part 107. Upon obtaining it, you can register your drone with the FAA and start flying it commercially.

Where to Make Money With a Drone: Top 9 Industries

We’ve included an overview of our top picks below. For detailed information on each pick, scroll down.

  1. Event Photography and Videography
  2. Real Estate Photography and Videography
  3. Stock Images and Videos
  4. Aerial Surveying and Mapping
  5. Aerial Inspection
  6. Drone Deliveries
  7. Precision Agriculture
  8. Surveillance and Security
  9. Filmmaking

Drones are used in many industries, which begs the question: which industry is best for you? This section sheds light on nine industries that offer drone pilots excellent opportunities and pay.

1. Event Photography and Videography

If you have a knack for capturing special moments, the event photography and videography industry is for you. From weddings to music concerts to sports events, the market of event photography and videography is filled with opportunities.

To succeed in this industry, you need to have photo and video-capturing skills and a good deal of experience in creative editing. This particular niche doesn’t require specialized drones; a standard, high-quality drone will get the job done.

How Much You Can Make

Drone photographers make an average salary of around $51,000 a year, with an hourly rate of $25.

What Makes This Option Great

Event photography and videography let you capture and share special moments from unique perspectives. On top of that, it doesn’t require as much technical knowledge as some of the other industries we’re about to discuss. 

2. Real Estate Photography and Videography

Traditional photography and videography can be limiting when it comes to showcasing a commercial or residential property.

This is where aerial photography and videography come in handy!

According to PhotoUp, properties listed with drone or aerial photos or videos sell 68% faster than those without aerial visuals.

To work as a drone operator for real estate companies and agents, you only need some basic photo and video editing knowledge.

How Much You Can Make

A real estate drone photographer or videographer makes an average salary of around $53,800 per year, with an hourly rate of $26.

What Makes This Option Great

Real estate photography and videography are great because there isn’t a shortage of real estate and real estate agents. In other words, this is a side gig you can do for as long as people are interested in buying property.

3. Stock Images and Videos

You can generate passive income with your drone photos and videos by sharing them on sites like Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Getty and other similar platforms.

Such websites offer a royalty program, where you get paid for every download.

However, remember that earnings from such websites are nominal. You can’t make a living out of them.

How Much You Can Make

According to Photutorial, beginner stock photographers make an average of $0.02 per image on a monthly basis, while professionals make $0.05 to $0.25.

What Makes This Option Great

This option is great because there are no strings attached. You upload your visuals wherever and whenever you want and enjoy the passive income they generate.

4. Aerial Surveying and Mapping

Drones have become a more prominent solution for aerial surveying and mapping than helicopters. After all, drones can be remotely controlled and are easier to navigate.

It’s a fairly complex industry to get into, requiring vast knowledge, experience, and certification—which is why it’s more profitable than most other options on the list.

How Much You Can Make

Aerial surveyors make an average of around $70,700 a year. Salaries in this field can go as high as $117,500!

What Makes This Option Great

The aerial surveying and mapping industry is one that pays well. One can view it more as a career than a side hustle.

5. Aerial Inspection

Drones are used for inspection jobs by construction, insurance, utility, and power companies, to name a few. It’s not surprising, as aerial inspection via drones is more convenient and less expensive than manual inspection.

Drones are also used in inspection jobs involving cell towers, bridges, power lines, and pipelines.

How Much You Can Make

The pricing of drone inspection jobs varies, but you can expect to make $50-$250 per hour as an established drone operator.

What Makes This Option Great

The best thing about drone-based inspection work is that it’s in demand in several industries, translating to numerous job opportunities.

6. Drone Deliveries

Did you know that Amazon’s Prime Air service relies on air deliveries via UAV drones?

Step into the future by using your drone for package delivery and disaster relief operations. Keep in mind that this side gig requires precise, high-end UAV drones, like the ones produced by Airborne Drones and ideaForge.

How Much You Can Make

Drone delivery jobs can make you an average of $18 per hour.

What Makes This Option Great

This drone-based side hustle is great because it’s unique and is expected to become more and more popular as drone technology advances.

7. Precision Agriculture

Drones are highly valued for their surveillance capabilities in the agricultural sector. They’re used for growth monitoring, soil health evaluation, pesticide spraying, mapping, and other tasks.

Note that high-end drones with specialized cameras and infrared capabilities are required for evaluating crop health.

How Much You Can Make

ZipRecruiter indicates that agricultural drone operators make $34,000-$67,000 per year.

What Makes This Option Great

This option is great if you’re in the agricultural sector because it helps increase yield and reduce overall costs.

8. Surveillance and Security

Many private companies and government offices hire drone operators as part of their security teams.

For this job, you don’t need the most advanced drone. A standard drone with a high-quality camera will do.

How Much You Can Make

Drone security jobs pay an average hourly rate of $27.

What Makes This Option Great

From the flexible nature of the job to the high hourly rate, drone-based surveillance and security work is a worthwhile side hustle.

9. Filmmaking

If you have for filmmaking but don’t want classic gigs like writing reviews, using drones can help you capture special moments from unique perspectives.

You don’t have to be the one behind the film. You can offer your services to filmmakers who are looking for drone operators.

How Much You Can Make

Drone videographers get paid an average hourly rate of $26. The rate can go up to $57 an hour based on experience.

What Makes This Option Great

This option is great because it allows you to tell your story and be part of other people’s stories while earning excellent pay!

Why You Should Consider Making Money With a Drone as a Side Hustle

Why become a drone pilot? What benefits does this side hustle have to offer? Here are some of the most notable reasons to consider making money with a drone:

  • Lucrative Gig: Having gone through our list of the top industries for drone pilots, it’s evident that this is a lucrative side hustle. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned drone pilot, there are tons of opportunities for you to explore.
  • Fun and Rewarding: Few side hustles are as fun and rewarding as flying a drone. Not only can you get paid for it, but you also get to enjoy a new perspective on things most people view as mundane or ordinary.
  • Life-Long Learning: One of the best things about becoming a drone pilot is that you’ll always be in tune with new regulations, software, and gear. This constant learning helps keep your mind sharp, reducing the risk of cognitive decline.
  • Wide-Reaching Applications: The skills you acquire and develop as a drone pilot apply to numerous niches. Such skills include attention to detail, deep knowledge of technological systems, relationship building, and data analytics.

Problems With Flying a Drone for Money

Though fun and lucrative, flying a drone for money has its fair share of challenges. Here are some of the most common problems drone pilots face:

  • Bad Weather: Drones are vulnerable to thick fog, rain, and snow. If moisture enters the drone, it can damage its control system components. That’s not to mention that navigating a drone in bad weather isn’t an easy feat.
  • Traffic and Obstacles: Not all drones have high-end sensors that can help them navigate traffic and obstacles. If you have a low-end drone, chances are you’ll need to rely on your eyes to avoid obstacles, identify safe landing zones, and gauge altitude.
  • Drone Costs: Drones come in many shapes and sizes, and some are more feature-rich than others. Depending on your industry, you may need to invest in a high-end drone, which can cost you thousands of dollars.
  • Drone Licensing: You can’t fly a drone for commercial purposes without licensing and registering your drone with the Federal Aviation Administration. And to do so, you’ll need to study for and pass the FAA’s exam.

How to Make Money With a Drone: Step-by-Step Instructions

Now that you know about the best industries for drone pilots and what you’ll need to fly your drone commercially, here are the steps you need to follow to start flying your drone for money:

1. Buy the Needed Equipment

The first step to making money with a drone is buying all the necessary equipment.

The equipment you’ll need will vary based on your industry. We recommend checking out this guide on how to choose a drone before making a purchase decision.

You might also need a computer, editing software, lighting, and additional cameras.

2. Learn How to Use Your Drone

Next, you need to learn how to fly your drone and use it to capture aerial visuals.

You can do that by experimenting by yourself or opting for courses with a mentor, online, or in your community college.

Familiarize yourself with the features and settings of your drone and its camera. You must also become familiar with changing lenses and flashes, as well as different lighting settings and angles.

On top of that, you need to be proficient in editing software so that you can perfect your aerial visuals.

3. License and Register Your Drone

Before you can fly your drone for commercial purposes or even recreationally, you need to obtain a license from the FAA and register your drone.  

Flying an unlicensed and unregistered drone, especially in areas where drones aren’t allowed, can result in civil and criminal charges.

4. Create Your Portfolio

Now that your drone is licensed and registered, it’s time to start building your portfolio so that potential clients can see your work.

Make sure to include only your best work in your portfolio. Your portfolio should showcase your skills and experience.

5. Build Your Client Base

The final step is to market your portfolio and reach out to potential clients.

There are many ways to market your business, from social media and search engine marketing to influencer marketing. Be sure to price your services based on your experience and the intricacies of each job.

Also, once you’re done with a job, ask the client for a reference to include in your portfolio as proof of your skills and experience.

Things to Consider When Flying a Drone for Money

Here are a few factors to keep in mind before you start getting paid to fly a drone:

  • FAA Guidelines and Regulations: As a drone pilot, you must comply with the FAA’s “Rules of the Sky,” which encompass airspace restrictions, FAA-recognized identification areas, and no-drone zones.
  • Pre-Flight Checklist: Before you start flying your drone, check how much battery life and storage you have available. Also, conduct a risk assessment to determine whether or not flying a drone is possible in a given area. 
  • Drone Business Starting Costs: Depending on your needs and industry, starting a drone business can come with a hefty investment, from buying all the needed equipment to getting your drone licensed and insured. That’s not to mention marketing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Sell Drone Footage?

Yes. You can sell your drone visuals on several online platforms, including Shutterstock, Getty Images, Drone Foot, DroneStock, and Pond5. 

You can also share your drone visuals on YouTube with a purchase link in the description of each video.

Is Drone Photography a Good Side Hustle?

Yes. Not only is drone photography a profitable side hustle, but it’s also fun! It’s also worth noting that there’s a growing demand for the use of drones, which makes it a worthwhile side hustle to pursue.

What Businesses Need Drone Footage?

Numerous businesses require drone photography and videography, including:

  • Construction companies
  • Wedding venues
  • Roofing companies
  • Tourism boards
  • Marketing departments
  • Roofing companies
  • Landscaping companies
  • Security services
  • Agricultural professionals

Similar Tutorials to Check Out

If you find making money with a drone interesting, here are a few other side hustles you may find appealing:

  • Make Money With a 3D Printer: Sell 3D designs online, create prototypes for products, offer a custom 3D printing service, teach a 3D printing course, and more.
  • Make Money on Steam: If you’re into gaming, you can make money on Steam by selling gaming content, trading cards, video game coaching services, and more.
  • Make Money Online Coaching: From one-on-one and group coaching to online courses and consulting services, you can make a lot of money as an online coach.

Wrapping Up

There you have it; now you’re armed with the information required to start your drone business as a certified drone pilot.

We understand that the process might be more complicated than you expected, but don’t let that discourage you. Making money with a drone is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding side gigs you can pursue.

By following these steps and tips and being wary of problems associated with flying a drone for money, you’ll be getting paid to fly your drone in no time.

If you’ve enjoyed this guide, be sure to share it with others who may find it interesting. And if you have any questions or concerns regarding today’s topic, leave us a comment below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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