A lot has changed in the drone industry since the FAA first launched the Part 107 rules over a year ago, in August of 2016.
In that time we’ve seen drones grow more sophisticated, more focused on niche applications, and generally cheaper. We’ve also seen the rise of the droneprenuer, the drone service provider who works for him- or herself, usually doing aerial cinematography but also, in some cases, doing work in surveying, mapping, or other applications.
The droneprenuer model is appealing because it promises financial freedom. But in the rush to start their own business and work for themselves, some drone pilots overlook the importance of gaining solid professional experience.
Who Gets the Job: Why Professional Training Is So Important
At InterDrone in September of this year we saw seven different specialized enterprise tracks for attendees:
- UAVs in Construction
- Surveying and Mapping
- Precision Agriculture
- Mining and Aggregates
- Police, Fire, and Emergency Response
- Infrastructure Inspection
Seven—just think about that.
The number of tracks alone indicates how important training and specialization has already become when it comes to finding work in the drone industry. That trend will only continue as drones become adopted in more and more scenarios, and more and more specific skill sets are required to be paired with the ability to fly well.
“I think a lot of people assume that you can get a certification from the federal government and the money’s going to start pouring in.”
– Alan Perlman, CEO and Founder of UAV Coach // Drone Pilot Ground School
It may have initially been the case that simply knowing how to fly was enough to make a drone pilot stand out and help him or her find work. But as the market gets more saturated with certified drone pilots, this approach just won’t work any more.
While there are still many droneprenuers who hang their shingle and offer every kind of service possible—not just aerial cinematography, but also aerial thermography, 3D mapping, and anything else you might need—the truth is that those who are trained and have a specialized niche are the ones who are actually making money.
A recent report from Skylogic Research showed that while the vast majority of drone service providers (46%) are working in aerial cinematography, at the top of the list of those making over $100K a year were pilots doing work in Surveying / Mapping / GIS.
The report also found that the top two applications most likely to be outsourced (i.e., where a dronepreneur might find steady work) were Agriculture / Farming Services and Utilities Inspections. That is, areas that require an extra level of professional training, in addition to simply knowing how to fly.
But in some ways, this is all getting ahead of ourselves. Before launching a drone services business, it’s also important to become a proficient pilot, and log the hours needed to become a proficient pilot.
After this, it’s important to master the skill set you’re going to be selling. If you’re going to work in aerial cinematography, you have to become proficient in post production and cinematography, and the entire world of skill sets required to create sellable video footage. If you’re going to work in mapping, you have to become proficient in mapping software, and in the terms and perspectives your clients will bring to the table when they request a finished product.
This is not to say that you can’t find work, or that you should feel discouraged—quite the opposite, actually.
There is a lot of work out there, but it requires real, professional training. Right now it would be much better to hone in on a specific application and become incredibly good at it than to offer everything under the sun (imagine being an expert at all seven of those enterprise tracks InterDrone offered this year—pretty unlikely, right?).
The quality of your work will differentiate you from competitors, especially those who are continuing to offer everything, and doing nothing especially well.
For more on the importance of professional training, check out InterDrone’s recent podcast with Alan Perlman, CEO and Founder of UAV Coach and Drone Pilot Ground School:
Growing opportunities in STEM for Young Pilots
Earlier this year the Atlantic reported on students in the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative participating in a competition where they designed, built, engineered, and tested their own drones.
The competition came at the end of a year-long high school class in aerospace and aviation, in which drones figured prominently as opportunities for students to learn various aspects of aerospace engineering and design.
Scenarios like this are cropping up throughout the U.S., and the combination of drones and STEM education is timely, since jobs in STEM fields have been forecasted to grow at an exponential rate over the next several years.
Drones offer an enticing entry point for STEM studies, in that students generally perceive them as cool and fun. Students who start out simply interested in flying may end up excited about STEM studies, and either pursuing a future career in a STEM field—of which there are many—or in the growing drone industry itself.
Following the growing trend of drones being used in STEM education, Drone Pilot Ground School, a leading remote test prep course for the FAA’s Part 107 exam based in the U.S., recently launched the High School STEM Scholarship for Aspiring Commercial Drone Pilots to support high school students who want to become certified commercial drone pilots.
As the use of drones in STEM studies grows, we may see an emerging generation of drone pilots who are not just good at flying, but experts in specific niches, such as mapping or thermography—and if they get started in high school they will almost certainly have a leg up when they do enter the job market.
Know a high school student interested in pursuing FAA certification to fly drones commercially? Make sure to tell him or her about Drone Pilot Ground School’s new scholarship.