Flying a drone is not as simple as it seems, but it can be learned quite quickly. Moreover, the field of applications for this kind of machine is constantly expanding: from aerial photography to the monitoring of agricultural fields, the ways to earn money with this tool are now multiple. So, if you are interested in this idea, let’s see it in detail.
- Here's the program
- What exactly is a dronist?
- What are the possible applications with a drone?
- How to become a drone pilot?
- What are the conditions to get this license?
- Which drone to buy to get started?
- How to find your first customers?
- Pros and Cons
- Information recap
What exactly is a dronist?
A dronist is a professional or an amateur in charge of flying a drone, a kind of mini-helicopter equipped with 4 or more propellers, in a precise and safe way. To do this, he must take into account various parameters such as the weather conditions, the relief of the place to be flown over, the possible people present on the spot, etc.
To fly a drone requires a specific license in most countries. The conditions of this license vary from one country to another, but you generally have to follow a training and then pass a theoretical and practical exam which costs from a few tens to hundreds of dollars, depending on the region of the world where you live. We will see this in more detail later.
There are also terrestrial drones, machines equipped with wheels as we sometimes see them in wildlife documentaries. Unlike flying drones, they are much easier to fly (and do not require a permit) and do not present any particular danger to the surrounding population. I will rather talk about flying drones in this article because they are the ones that are most solicited, but you should know that there are also all kinds of applications for this kind of drones.
What are the possible applications with a drone?
At first, drones were mainly used to film and photograph various events such as weddings, concerts, etc. Today, there are drones of all kinds, from mini-drones for amateurs to high-end models on which you can mount a camera, a professional camera or even measuring instruments.
The sectors using drones have thus diversified widely in recent years. Here are some examples:
- Aerial photo/video shooting services: Companies and individuals often need the services of a drone operator for various reasons such as taking photos of real estate, creating advertising films, conducting building inspections, filming or photographing private, sports or corporate events, etc.
- Deliveries by drone: Delivery of medicine, food and other small consumer items, these services are (for the moment) mostly used for emergencies, addressed to people with reduced mobility or to reach hard-to-reach places. Amazon is one of the first to start delivering goods by drone, and it is likely that other companies will do the same in the relatively near future.
- Surveillance and inspection: I believe that this is the sector where the demand will explode in the coming years because these machines allow or facilitate access to areas that are sometimes difficult to reach. This is the case, for example, for pipeline networks, power lines, construction sites, nuclear power plants, etc.
- Agriculture: This is another area where demand is growing steadily. Drones equipped with measuring instruments can collect various useful information such as nitrogen levels, humidity levels, etc. All this data is essential to monitor crops, measure plant growth and know their health status, and thus help farmers make quicker and more informed decisions.
- Mapping and geomatics: The use of helicopters or planes was sometimes essential to map a region or even a specific location. The arrival of drones has drastically reduced the cost of these projects but also increased the quality of the surveys since drones are much more maneuverable and can be deployed quickly, anywhere. Thanks to the high-precision tools that are mounted on them, topographic maps or 3D landscape modeling can be created like never before.
- Cinema and media: This is probably the sector that currently uses drones the most. There are journalists who use them for various risky reports (natural disasters, war zones, or demonstrations), documentary filmmakers who can use them to film places from a new perspective, film directors who are always looking for new ways to film a shot, etc.
- Life sciences: Since they use drones, which are much more discreet than humans, naturalists, and zoologists have been able to film rare species, some of which were thought to be extinct. They have also been able to access inaccessible places such as caves or impenetrable jungles, and thus discover new biotopes. The drone is ideal to observe fragile ecosystems without disturbing them by the human presence.
- Emergency services: The applications allowing to improve the security of various types of places, and more generally the public safety, are also very numerous. Firefighters, for example, often use drones to get a more accurate overview of a city’s buildings and create maps locating sensitive areas that need to be closely monitored. This also allows them to determine the most optimal evacuation routes or explore an area after a disaster. Drones are also very useful for finding victims in inaccessible areas after an earthquake or fire.
- Insurance companies: The damage caused by a storm on a building can sometimes be difficult to access for an expert mandated by an insurance company. It is however essential to have a visual on these damages in order to be able to estimate as precisely as possible the amount of the compensations. A very steep roof, the facade of a skyscraper, the weakened structure of a footbridge, there are many cases where the use of a drone is much easier and safer.
- Military applications: All armed forces (land, air, and sea) already use drones for observation and surveillance purposes. The dronists are therefore military personnel who are trained on the spot on different models of drones. As we have seen during the war in Syria or in Ukraine, some are even capable of neutralizing targets using onboard weapon systems.
These are just a few of the sectors that already use drones, but this is only the beginning, and these little flying machines will certainly evolve in the next few years, and the field of applications will therefore probably also expand. From flying cabs to space conquest, the future certainly holds some spectacular advances.
How to become a drone pilot?
First of all, you will have to follow a certified training. This will allow you to learn both practice and theory. There are many schools that offer this kind of training, and a simple Google search will help you find one near you. At the end of this training, you should have acquired a certain skill to fly a drone, and you can then take the theoretical and practical tests to obtain your drone pilot license.
In parallel with this training, or even before, you can buy a drone and train to accelerate your learning. Start with a small, light, and cheap drone, and train in an open area where there is no one around. Go gradually, and wait until you have some practice before attacking the obstacle course. You are not in a video game, so if you destroy it, another one will not magically appear, and you will have to buy another one (or repair it if possible).
What are the conditions to get this license?
To obtain this license in the United States, you must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). To do so, you must be at least 16 years old, be in good mental and physical condition, and pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved test center, as well as the TRUST (The Recreational UAS Safety Test). Count $175 to obtain your “Part 107 Drone License” from the FAA.
Please, be aware that regulations vary, as they often do, from one state to another, and some restrictions may apply depending on the use you wish to make of your drone. So, remember to check your local laws before you start using a drone.
In Europe, a law was created in 2021 to simplify and standardize the regulations already in place. Three categories have been created: “open”, “specific”, and “certified”. The first one (open) is considered “low risk” and concerns mainly leisure activities, and the drones used must weigh between 250 grams and 25 kg.
A training is also mandatory. This training lasts between 5 and 20 days and is divided between theoretical training, which gives the Theoretical Certificate of Telepilot (CATT), and a practical training, which delivers a certificate of aptitude. On average, you can count between 600 and 1800 euros to pass it.
If you already have a drone but not yet a license, I strongly advise you not to fly it in a populated area. Because if you don’t respect the local regulations, you might get a very high fine at best; at worst you might seriously injure someone, and in this case, you will have to face much more important problems (flight ban, legal prosecution, and even jail sentence). So, unless you live in the Australian bush or the Kalahari Desert, avoid putting others in danger!
Check with your local government as well because the conditions to fly a drone vary from one country or even state to another. Sometimes the permit is valid for a limited period of time and must be renewed every year, but it is also sometimes mandatory to register your drone with an official authority.
Which drone to buy to get started?
So here you are with your license in your pocket. You will now have to buy a good quality drone, as well as the possible accessories you will need. The choice is quite large and depends mainly on the type of shots you want to take. But if you really don’t know what to buy, I propose you a small list of the models selected as the best by the specialized magazines that I consulted.
1DJI Mini Pro 3 The best drone for most creators
The DJI Mini 3 Pro is a compact and lightweight drone with very good image quality for its size. It also has a long flight time, various very efficient automated flight modes and excellent obstacle detection. This drone has an impressive image quality in low light, even if in this case they can sometimes lack a little sharpness. The only negative point is the high price, but there is a cheaper model, with similar characteristics, but without obstacle detection or subject tracking, the DJI Mini 3.Check price
- Photo/video sensor resolution: 12.1 MP
- Flight time: 34 min.
- Range: 8km-12km
- Weight: 249 gr/8,8 oz
- Controller: Included (available without)
2DJI Air 2S The best for aerial photography
The DJI Air 2S drone has several advantages such as excellent image quality thanks to its 1″ CMOS sensor and 20 MP resolution, allowing clear and detailed images, and automated shooting. It also offers excellent 4K video recording capabilities, even up to 6K resolution at 30 frames per second. In addition, it has an impressive flight range and half-hour flight time, as well as robust safety features such as obstacle detection and avoidance. We can only blame it for a slightly longer charging time and a limited internal storage capacity of 8GB (But don’t worry, there is a slot to host a microSD card).Check price
- Photo/video sensor resolution: 20 MP
- Flight time: 31 min.
- Range: 8km-12km
- Weight: 595 gr/21 oz
- Controller: Included
3Autel Evo Nano+ The best multipurpose drone
The Autel Evo Nano+ drone is an excellent choice in the mid-range. It has many advantages like 4K 30fps video quality with pod stabilization and 12MP and 50MP photo support. It also has automated quick-shot and Hyperlapse capabilities, as well as a flight time of up to 28 minutes and three-way obstacle detection sensors. In addition, it has a built-in GPS with a return-home function and a large sensor that captures excellent images and video. However, the Autel Evo Nano+ drone also has a few drawbacks, including RAW photo processing that is a bit laborious and a video process that may not appeal to everyone.Check price
- Photo/video sensor resolution : 12.5MP
- Flight time : 28 min.
- Range : 16km
- Weight : 249 gr/8,8 oz
- Controller : Inclus
4Ryze Tello The best for training
We can’t say that the Ryze Tello shines in terms of quality or performance, but let’s face it, it doesn’t do too bad for an entry-level model. If you just want to have fun or practice, and don’t necessarily need very high quality images, this one should be fine. On the plus side, the Ryze Tello is very maneuverable and easy to fly, has automated flight modes and is compatible with a Bluetooth remote control. On the downside, the image is a bit pixelated, its control range is limited and it doesn’t have GPS or the automatic return home function.Check price
- Photo/video sensor resolution: 5 MP
- Flight time: 13 min.
- Weight: 80 gr/2,8 oz
- Controller: Optional
How to find your first customers?
You now have everything you need to start your droning activity, all you need is to find your first customers. For that, you have several possibilities, but it is still a question of going step by step.
1The first step is to show what your talents are. As soon as you get your license, spend some time practicing to get really good at it. Also, look at what the professionals are posting on social media, especially YouTube, and Vimeo. You can then use this as inspiration to create your own productions.
2Once you have produced a few quality videos, create a website where all your potential clients will be directed, and put all the useful information (description of the service(s), price list, photos/videos demos, contact, etc.). Also post short videos on social networks such as TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. Well-produced drone videos often create a buzz there, so this will be free advertising. Also, create a Facebook page that you will regularly feed with quality content (photos and videos mostly).
3At the same time, you can create and launch small advertising campaigns on Google Ads, Facebook/Instagram Ads, as well as on other advertising platforms. And you don’t need to put a huge budget for this—a few dozen dollars are usually enough to have first positive results. Offer attractive prices on your ad campaigns, which will allow you to get your first customers faster.
4Encourage each of your customers to leave a positive review on social networks or on sites such as Trustpilot and publish the best ones on your website. The power of customer testimonials is not only real but also very powerful. So this is an important point that will help convince those who are hesitating.
5Be very active and communicate as much as possible about your new business. For example, you can offer your services to shops, hotels, museums, etc. in your area, approach companies such as real estate agencies and construction companies, participate in events and trade fairs and talk to as many people as possible, etc.
Even though, let’s be honest, the competition is already quite high, you still have your chances to succeed because the market is still open, especially with the new applications to come. The important thing is to be really good at what you do and to stand out from the competition. And if you notice after a while that your orders are stagnating, that new customers are slow to show up, try to identify where the problem comes from and find a solution.
Maybe you are not good enough yet, you need more practice, you need to be inspired by what others are doing and find ideas that customers like? Maybe there is too much competition in your area, and in that case you should specialize in one of the sectors I mentioned above and target the relevant companies? Maybe the material you are using is not of good enough quality? As a general rule, there is a solution to every problem. The question is how to identify it.
As we have seen, the applications with a drone are numerous, and new ones are still to come. And even if there is already a lot of competition, there is always room for newcomers. It’s also going to depend on where you live, ideally a city that’s big enough to have enough demand, but where the competition isn’t too high. Somewhere between Los Angeles and Kathmandu, then.
The budget to launch such an activity is not negligible. With the cost of a training, the purchase of a good quality drone, plus the accessories and the vehicle to transport all this, you can quickly reach a few thousand dollars. But if you are talented enough and you follow the advice I gave you above, you should be able to amortize this amount quite quickly.
Are you ready to get started? If you’ve read this article, it’s because you’re interested in the idea, so what’s holding you back?
Environmental and climate change issues are more than ever at the heart of the concerns of this 21st century, which is why I am proposing a few ideas that will enable you to limit the negative impact that the implementation of this idea could have.
These solutions that I suggest are sometimes largely insufficient to compensate for these negative impacts, such as carbon offsetting. Unfortunately, there is not always an ideal and 100% efficient solution, far from it. And if you have others, please do not hesitate to share them in the comments below.
Without being a total disaster for the environment, drones are not eco-friendly either. As with most “Hi-Tech” devices, they contain plastic, chemical elements, and rare earths for the electronic components and batteries. The first thing to do is to choose a drone that is sturdy enough and of good enough quality to be able to keep it as long as possible, and especially to take good care of it.
Concerning your travels, prefer public transport as much as possible. You won’t always need to travel to a remote area with all your equipment, will you? In this case, you could rent a car instead of buying one? Or if you need to buy a car, find a used one with low fuel consumption or opt for an electric car?
- A great job where you can express all your artistic talent
- New applications for drones are coming
- Life in the open air (yes, in the city too)
- The starting cost is rather high
- The competition is quite strong sometimes
- Location: Anywhere in the world but rather where the demand is high.
- Investment: Count between 1500 and 3500 dollars to get the license and buy a professional quality drone.
- Earnings perspective: It will depend on where you live and how talented you are, but you should be able to earn enough to live on.
- Required: Very good reflexes and skills to fly the drone.
- Risk level: Low to moderate
- Implementation time: Allow a few weeks to complete the training and be ready.
- Material needed: A drone and its accessories, a computer to be able to do the video editing or photo retouching, and maybe a vehicle to move and transport the equipment.