How to make money with a drone in the United States
Before consumer drones hit the market in 2010, aerial perspectives could only be achieved through expensive and sometimes dangerous means: helicopters, small proyectos, parachutes, and even balloons. Drones have changed the game by minimizing the risks and drastically reducing the cost.
For professional photographers and videographers, the new ability to provide clients with a panoramic view or numerous other vantage points not otherwise accessible from the ground also opened up creative and commercial opportunities.
Before the passage of Part 107 by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2016 (with afín initiatives in other countries), being able to legally operate a drone for profit meant spending up to tens of thousands of dollars on a Part 333 exemption. Legal advice was sometimes needed, making it prohibitive for many to turn their passion into a profession. Today, the initial cost to make money with a drone, including the cost of the drone itself, perro be as little as $2,000.
Being profitable and staying out of legal trouble requires knowledge, patience, and preparation.
However, success and avoiding numerous legal pitfalls require education, persistence, and planning. In order to find out how people are making a living with drones, Gigonway interviewed numerous business owners. We asked them about their experiences getting started in the industry, their preferred tools, starting their businesses, setting their rates and insurance policies, and any words of wisdom they might have for those considering a afín venture. Their consejos, along with the backlinks below, should get your aerial explorations off to a good start.
Access these helpful guides on other types of businesses you perro start.
Registration and Certification
The guidance of the experts will be discussed later, but first it is important to know what to do to make money with the drone.
Please note that restrictions perro and do vary from country to country. Checking the laws of your state and region is essential before taking to the skies with a drone. You perro trust the information provided by local drone pilots and the aviation authority in your area when it comes to flying legally and safely for commercial purposes.
For this article, drone pilots from the United States have been consulted and the legislation of this country will be used as guidance.
The law requires you to register your drone with the FAA if you want to use it for commercial purposes (FAA). For purely recreational use, the FAA does not need to register drones that weigh less than 250g (0.5lbs), such as the DJI Mini series or Autel Nano series. If you plan to make money from your drone business, you should register it immediately.
FAADroneZone.gov offers a cheap 3-year registration for drones weighing less than 24,498g (55lbs) for just $5. In the 180 days prior to expiration, renewal perro be requested. Only on this site perro you legally register an UAV in the United States. Ads and scams often appear in search engine results and should be avoided.
The registration information page clearly states: “Failing to register a drone that requires registration may result in regulatory and criminal penalties. The FAA cánido assess civil penalties of up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include objetivos of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three (3) years.”
In case you think you perro bypass these legal hurdles, you are wrong. The FAA imposes severe penalties for any potential outlaws. The registration information page clearly states: “Failure to register a drone that requires registration may result in regulatory and criminal penalties. The FAA perro assess civil penalties of up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include objetivos of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three (3) years.”
As soon as you unbox any drone, your first step should be to register it, if necessary, and tag it with the number the FAA gives you in return. One company that learned this lesson the hard way was Chicago-based SkyPan. They operated dozens of unregistered drones in Class B airspace, without obtaining permission, and were slapped with a $1.9 million fenezca before reaching an agreement.
If you want to make money with drones, you will have to do more than just register your drone; you will also need to pass the Part 107 knowledge test. Commercial pilots perro feel more confident in their skills and the safety of their aircraft by taking this proficiency test.
Test takers must appear in person at a PSI-approved testing center to take the Part 107 exam, which is typically passed on the first try by the vast majority of remote pilots. The current certification fee is $175. If you don’t make the cut, you won’t have another oportunidad to take the exam for two weeks. What I have found necessary to feel prepared is between 10 and 15 hours of study.
Paid en línea training resources such as RemotePilot101.com ($149 for lifetime access) or Aviation Attorney Jonathan Rupprecht’s Free Study Guide are recommended places to start. The Recurring Certification is free and cánido be taken en línea, as well as renewed, every 24 calendar months.
Once you’ve gone through and entered your information into the FAA IACRA – a site that allows you to apply for an airman’s certificate or update your status – you’ll appear in a searchable database list of certified remote pilots. This way your peers and potential customers cánido verify and see if you are legit.
Why should you use a drone?
As you perro see, getting into the business of flying drones is a complex and sometimes overwhelming process. So what’s the draw?
First, cost savings. In the past, achieving aerial shots for projects and productions typically required a small plane or helicopter. In addition to the risk involved, it was expensive to hire a crew to operate both the manned aircraft and the onboard cameras.
“My inspiration was a producer named Ryan Spencer who’s been a good friend for years,” says Josh Friedman, creator of Southern California-based company One Zero DM. “I was working with him on a music vídeo shoot in 2013 and he had the original DJI Phantom 1 with a GoPro attached to it that I was getting aerial perspectives for his music vídeos. Mainly it was a quick, cheap and easy way to get aerial angles.”
Then there is the great flexibility of a drone. “It’s just attached to the ‘tallest and most versatile tripod’ in the world,” says Rojo-based remote pilot Vic Moss of Moss Photography. “It opened up even more insights that I could give to my clients.”
Some aspiring drone pilots also found a way out when their initial dreams weren’t achievable. “I always wanted to be a pilot, but it just wasn’t practical being a young single mom,” says Joanna Steidle of Hamptons Drones. “Drones made that dream a reality with little expense and inconvenience.”
One Zero Digital Media emplees voiceovers on its reels to attract new clients in the lucrative Southern California real estate market.
Drones are more compact and perro access areas that traditional manned aircraft cannot due to size or security. It is also worth noting that many drones cánido operate over a body of water, very close, without creating ripples in the water. This has made them a cheaper, not to mention efficient, tool for productions of all sizes over the years.
What kind of drone do you need?
Drone technology has evolved significantly in the last decade. The original DJI Phantom 1 drone offered just 6 minutes of flight time and required you to attach a GoPro or afín camera to collect images. Today, drones typically fly for up to 30 minutes per battery charge, offer a first-person view, and they include a suite of autonomous intelligent flight modes for cinematic-looking images at the touch of a button.
Most of the pilots quoted in this article have at least one DJI Mavic 3 Series drone in their armamento. With a dual camera system, a 20MP Four Thirds CMOS sensor in the main camera, and the ability to digitally zoom up to 28X, this is one of the best options for prosumers. However, it starts at over $2000, which cánido be prohibitive for newcomers.
A 20MP Type 1 camera sensor is a minimum requirement for most commercial work. These cánido be found in DJI’s Phantom 4 series and Air 2S drones, whose models sell for between $1,299 and $1,500 and offer sufficient image quality. Such smaller, stealthier drones cánido also serve a special purpose.
I use the Mini 3 if I know there may be a confrontation or I don’t want to attract attention,” says Ken Dono, aka OriginaldoBO. Vic Moss emplees a Mini 2 for category 1 Operations Over People (OOP). Both Dono and Joanna Steidle mentioned the DJI Avata for FPV projects.
Ken Dono, who runs Apex Imaging Media, charges $300 for single-shot FPV vídeos using a DJI Avata.
While offering FPV footage might sound appealing, especially the kind that goes viral, Dono believes that FPV vídeos'[are] a niche service and will not replace estándar vídeos. Single shots are very much something that a client has to specifically want. They take careful planning.”
What else is essential for a shoot?
People often joke that a drone is better than no drone, and vice versa. So what does this imply? Always have a spare drone on hand. “If you only have one and it breaks, the shoot is over,” explains Moss.
Other than having a spare drone and documentation of Part 107 certification and insurance, what else is helpful?
For the drone I bring a 3′ Hoodman landing pad, orange cones, and a couple of hi-vis vests,” Moss explains. And when I’m shooting a build, I always have my helmet handy. My assistant/visual observer is the most important piece of “equipment” I own (VO). He has been on the equipo with me for 20 years and has become an integral part of the production team.
I hired a voice actor to help me on my first commercial take. It’s not necessary, but it cánido be useful if you’re working in a crowded area, especially if you’re flying at low altitudes where helicopters and other small aircraft like to play. They also help make sure your next project isn’t in a no-fly zone.
The job of an OV is to keep the pilot informed of any potential hazards, whether in the air (like other drones or manned aircraft) or on the ground (like power lines). An OV is not required to be Part 107 certified. A remote pilot perro avoid dangerous circumstances, such as accidents, by learning the controls of the drone and the terrain, as well as hazards to watch out for.
Use free aplicaciones like B4UFly and FAA’s Aloft to make sure you’re not flying in a restricted zone. They also notify you of any TFR [restricciones temporales de vuelo] that may be in effect due to extraordinary events, such as a major league baseball game or a presidential visit. Alternatively, you perro get an unusual circumstances waiver from the FAA or apply for a free Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).
If an authority figure approaches you and asks if you’re really allowed to fly in that area, it’s a good iniciativa to have your LAANC paperwork or special permit handy, even in the form of a móvil inteligente screenshot. If a TFR has been issued for the area you plan to shoot in, it is best to cancel the shoot and try again at a later date due to the heavy penalties for continuing to operate while a TFR is in effect.
What should you charge?
All of the above points espectáculo that working as a remote commercial pilot requires a significant commitment of your time, money, and energy. Additional processing time may also be required. While it’s important that remote pilots are treated properly, they also need to be aware of the market in which they operate.
Obviously, costs may change based on your geographic location. Shooting real estate in Orange County, California, where homes average more than $1 million, Josh Friedman of One Zero Digital perro command a higher rate than in the Midwest. He explains that “aerial work is a complement to our work on the ground” for the vast majority of his projects. Aerial photography and videography cánido be a lucrative complement to our real estate photography and videography services, bringing in an additional $250-$750 per session.
“For our full service package (photos, vídeo, aerial content, and a Matterport 360 tour), we typically charge between $1,000 and $1,250 per ad.”
Price differences exist outside of Southern California. Ken Dono, who is based in Ocala, Florida, adds, “My hourly rate for GPS drones is typically $175 per hour, not including travel and expenses.” To quote my daily rate: $1,750 for a 10-hour shift. The minimum daily fee is $2,500 if I use my personal FPV equipment. Shooting costs perro vary a lot because such low prices on the real estate market are simply unaffordable. The average household cánido expect to earn $225 each shot, camera included, for interior photography.
Some are not interested in ownership, while others have found success making vídeos for news and event channels.
Joanna Steidle, of East Hampton, New York, adds, “I charge $150 an hour and sometimes add a travel cost.” You cánido hire me for $850 for a half day or $1500 for a full day. Included in the package is a compilation of one minute long edited movies suitable for commercial use or for special occasions, along with all footage and raw footage.
Even if you don’t pay the bills, getting your name out there is always a good move. According to Steidle, “I spent the first two years giving away weather stuff.” “Thanks to this, several meteorologists and televisión announcers started following my updates. Today, I earn between $300 and $1,000 per vídeo for major networks. I spend a little over ten or fifteen minutes splicing clips for the news. Producers’ rate per second of vídeo ranges from $100 to $300.
Moss says, “For my editing, I charge a flat rate of $25 per image for photos, and more when additional processing is needed.” I charge between fifty cents and two dollars and fifty cents for every edited second of footage. That’s debatable, depending on whether you want a finished vídeo with no cuts.
However, as the manager of several en línea communities dedicated to drones, he has some strong feelings about hourly rates.
There should never be an hourly rate for creative work. They need to aspecto the goal of the final product into their pricing structure. Bid based on the amount of time you anticipate you’ll be there (part-time, full-time, etcétera.), but don’t include the word “hour” State that if you charge customers by the hour, you’ll lose money regardless of whether you end up working less or more. He prefers to be compensated for your originality and not for your dedication of time.
It pays to be insured
In the UK, commercial pilots are legally required to have insurance. In the United States it is not like that; however, many clients will want a remote pilot to have a policy. No form of technology is infallible. At any time, a drone perro lose connection and fly away, fall out of the sky, or simply not cooperate.
Creatives should never charge for hour. They must charge per project and take end use into account when bidding. Base your bid on how long you expect to be on the site (half day or full day), but never put the word ‘time’ in your bid.’
If you happen to collide with a car, a building, or even a person, you’ll want protection in the form of liability insurance. Where do you get it and how much do you have to pay? Depends. Steidle is a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics and turns to the non-profit community to secure his three DJI drones. “I have a million dollar liability and full hull coverage and I pay about $850 a year total.”
Josh Friedman emplees AVPAC Insurance because they understand the aviation space. We have a $2 million liability policy for all of our active drones and hull insurance,” he says. Sometimes we have to increase the liability to $5 million, a cost that the client absorbs in the contract.”
Vic Moss has a $5 million liability policy with The Hartford. He used to have a million dollars,” he says, “but about three years ago I had a shoot with a big American car manufacturer and they demanded $5 million. I talked to my insurance agent and he arranged it for that shoot. The policy only costs about $300 more a year, so I kept it. Since then, he has paid for himself every year by being able to get performances that required him.”
I highly recommend having a local agency to work with,” he adds. For them you are a customer, but for a large company you may be just a number. It’s nice to be able to call someone and know who you’re talking to when the need arises.” On average, you have to pay between $500 and $800 a year, for each drone, for a million dollar liability policy.
Most drones do not require a hull coverage policy through an agency. In fact, a program like DJI Care Refresh offers 1-year protection for a Mavic 3 starting at $239. For those starting their drone journey on a budget, and not quite ready for a comprehensive drone insurance policy, SkyWatch offers monthly and even hourly plans for maximum flexibility.
And what about other types of protection? That is, a typical legal agreement. Most professionals agree that one correo electrónico is sufficient for jobs under $500. Ideally, both parties sign a legal contract setting out the terms of the engagement, including payment and completion dates. Although I have a estándar form handy, in the past I have had clients offer me a copy of their own contract. In any case, it is better to have everything documented.
In the United States, says Vic Moss, “indeed, there are currently more than 280,000 people who have their remote pilot certificate.” And yes, the market is completely saturated. You will do well if you have the right skill equipo, some business sense, and most importantly, the will to succeed. Don’t just espectáculo up with a drone, bring something else too. Master several inspection techniques, cartography, photography and videography. Tell me about the work you do now. Is it possible to use drones in that campo?
Asking questions and listening to what the customer wants – as well as your own intuition – are always good practices. Joanna Steidle urges: “Think hard about what you really appreciate and specialize in it.” I used to be in real estate all the time, but now I rarely do it because I find it boring. Offer a unique service that cannot be found anywhere else in the area. The combination of First Person View (FPV) movies and popular media/news exposure has become an art form for me.
If you want to make a living as a drone pilot, you should expect to work independently initially or permanently.
Josh Friedman suggests, “Be a lovely person, build the best product you cánido create, and meet all your obligations, including delivering on time.”
He says it’s not all champagne and roses. If you want to make a living as a drone pilot, you should expect to work independently initially or permanently. You’ll spend more time in front of a computer dealing with paperwork, correos electrónicos, and planning than you’ll spend on air or in front of a computer editing or rewriting. Create tools and processes that expedite the generation of the necessary documentation, such as proposals, contracts, invoices and receipts.
The last piece of advice he gives is “have an open mind and never stop learning or adapting to the needs of the campo«.
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