Licensed Drone Operator

Operating a drone requires much more effort than buying a machine and flying it around your house.  The FAA regulates the operation of drones under Small UAS Rule (part 107).  Regulation is necessary since an object is entering airspace.  

Commercial drone operators require a Remote Pilot Certificate, commonly referred to as a “drone license”. To obtain one, candidates must study FAA regulations and operational safety guidelines thoroughly in order to secure one.

Once they pass their knowledge test, drone operators must register their drone with the FAA – this process is free!

Qualifications and Requirements

Legally operating a drone requires fulfilling several qualifications. First and foremost, you need to obtain a remote pilot certificate from the FAA. This document, commonly known as a drone license, verifies that you have met FAA requirements for flying small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Although obtaining UAS certification may seem intimidating at first, the process should not be difficult or time consuming. First, create an account on the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system. After doing this, schedule a knowledge test at any FAA approved testing center – this exam consists of 60 questions covering various topics like aeronautical decision-making, airport operations, regulations, and any additional important details related to flying your drone safely.

Your drone must also be registered, and you should carry proof of registration with you during operation.  This can easily be done online through FAA website. 

Understanding and abiding by local drone regulations, in addition to federal ones, is also critical. For instance, in certain locations it may be required that an observer always accompany any flight involving your drone.  The observer must be able to see it at all times and have the ability to communicate with the operator.  This helps ensure your flight does not interfere with other manned aircraft or otherwise violate any other regulations in its area.

If you are an existing manned airplane pilot and wish to obtain your drone license, a further step must be taken in addition to taking and passing a standard knowledge exam: taking and passing an online Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST), which can be done for free within less than an hour.

Obtaining a Remote Pilot Certificate

FAA Website Link: Become A Drone Pilot

When operating a drone, the first step should always be obtaining a remote pilot certificate, commonly referred to as a drone license from the FAA. This certification allows commercial flights and is necessary if you intend on earning any income from drone operations. You can find several online test preparation courses or drone pilot license kits which can assist in passing this knowledge exam, though these alone won’t get your certificate; further steps need to be completed as discussed below.

Understand airspace regulations, including the distinction between controlled and uncontrolled airspace. Controlled airspace can be found around airports or at certain altitudes where air traffic controllers actively communicate, direct, and separate all aircraft. Uncontrolled airspace refers to any space where drones cannot fly such as Class E airspace lateral surface Class E airspace etc. Always review charts or temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) prior to flying your drone in order to prevent unsafe or illegal flights.

Registering your drone with the FAA and carrying proof of registration when operating it are also key components to being an ethical, legal, and responsible drone pilot. Doing this may help recover it in case it ever goes missing or is stolen; while also serving as proof that you are operating responsibly.

Understanding Airspace Regulations

Drones are increasingly popular tools among amateur and professional pilots alike for various uses, from taking photographs and videos, racing drones or conducting aerial surveys. But in order to operate your UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) safely and legally, it’s important that you understand its regulations and requirements – from FAA Part 107 aeronautical knowledge test requirements, to online study courses or even specialization training schools offering courses.  Not just book knowledge, but the working knowledge of current regulations, to operate legally at all times.

The FAA revised their Drone Pilot Knowledge Test in 2021 to make it simpler and faster for you to prepare and pass. While you still must register and pass every two years, now the recurrent knowledge test can be completed online through an online training program instead of having to visit a PSI test center to take it again in person.

Begin working as drone operator

After passing your exam, the next step should be registering your drone and receiving an operator identification number – this allows you to look for work as a drone pilot!

You must obtain any business license, insurance policy, or industry certification necessary in your jurisdiction to work as a drone operator.  Be sure to complete all of these requirements before your start working.  Do not even attempt to provide free or volunteer services until you have completed all requirements.

One of the best ways to find drone work is networking with fellow drone pilots. They may recommend you for jobs or provide valuable advice about breaking into the industry. Furthermore, many drone companies prefer hiring teams rather than individuals. Thus, those who network among fellow pilots while simultaneously building up a portfolio may have better odds at landing an opportunity.

Drones have quickly become a mainstream tool across industries, with use projected to expand significantly over the coming decade. As a result, drone operators should find plenty of employment in various sectors including agriculture and construction, film and photography as well as law enforcement and public safety. 

Build Your Portfolio

No matter your background in drone operation or photography, creating an impressive portfolio that highlights your skills and experience is essential for making a positive first impression and landing new clients.  A good place to begin is by creating a website where photos and videos of past work can be displayed.  Share this website on social media channels as well as with potential clients to drive more visitors and business opportunities.

Professional portfolios will set you apart from your competition and demonstrate to clients that you possess the skills needed to provide them with high-quality work, as well as attract those seeking drone services. To create one, gather several of your best drone photos that demonstrate your abilities; arrange them logically with descriptive captions for context and include some that demonstrate 3D maps.  You can use drone service providers such as Propeller (propelleraero.com).

As a beginner in the drone operator market, it can take some time for you to generate enough income through drone services to cover living costs. But with patience and persistence in building your business model, eventually you may create a sustainable drone operation service that provides enough income for yourself and your family’s well-being.

Network with potential clients

Once you have become proficient at flying drones and have amassed an impressive portfolio, it is time to network with potential clients. A drone service can assist a business with tasks like inspections, surveys and mapping – something a company may not be capable of handling themselves.

Dependent upon your industry, freelance work may be available through local governments and municipal agencies, construction firms or energy companies. However, freelance work in these sectors tends to be less common as most of these businesses prefer training their employees on how to operate drones instead.  You will have some competition from in house operators, since this is a trend that will occur more in the future.

Attending trade shows and events that focus on drones is another effective way to connect with potential clients. Here you will meet many people who could utilize your services and hire you. Alternatively, use social media platforms like LinkedIn to network with other drone pilots who could refer you clients.

The business aspect of operating a drone business

As it’s essential to identify potential competition in your area and understand what types of drone services they provide, taking an assessment of them will enable you to plan for growth more effectively.  This may involve developing something completely new they don’t offer or simply finding ways to enhance those that already exist.

Your drone data must also be processed appropriately; there are multiple, all-in-one solutions that provide everything from flight planning to creating comprehensive reports and maps.

You must charge fees fair to you, as well as the client.  You must compensate yourself for time and effort, as well as expenses.  

Resist the urge to undercut other providers or be the cheapest person.  Seth Godin has referred to this activity as a ‘race to the bottom’, where a service transforms into typical commodity. Consider custom pricing models to meet the needs of the client.  Do you have quality value added service that other operators are not using in the market?

Becoming a licensed drone pilot offers you the freedom of flight for personal or commercial purposes, making this a highly sought after skill and opening up many different industries and settings to piloting drones. With proper training and experience you can open a successful drone business or switch careers and become professional pilot.

Disclaimer: The FAA can fine individuals if they do not follow regulations. Please research all aspects of this industry if you choose to be involved.

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