Want to Make Money as a Drone Pilot? Consider Doing Inspection Work
Want to make money as a commercial drone pilot? Conducting inspections can be a lucrative way to add a new revenue stream to your drone work, and it doesn’t require special training.
However, you will need to have your Part 107 and know how to fly a drone.
At a high level, here’s what inspection work typically looks like for drone pilots:
First—the drone pilot will collect visual inspection by drone to collect videos and pictures of the asset
Second—an inspector will examine that visual data for defects/problem areas
Drone Types for Inspection Work
You don’t necessarily need a high-end prosumer drone to start inspection work.
The Parrot ANAFI (pictured below) and the Mavic 2 Pro are two middle-grade drones you could use to break into inspection work.
Credit: Parrot Drone SAS
But as you gain more experience and start doing more advanced types of inspections, you may find that you’ll want to level up the drone technology you use.
Also, keep in mind that some inspections may call for specific types of cameras to help you collect the specific data you need to get the job done.
There are many ways to do inspection work, and the drone and camera you use to do the work will be determined by the type of data you’re looking to collect.
[Related read: NCDOT and Skydio Team Up and Receive the First-Ever BVLOS Waiver]
Two Types of Inspection Work for Drone Pilots
There are two main paths you can take to work in inspections as a drone pilot: industrial inspections and roof inspections.
1. Industrial Inspections
Working in industrial inspections as a drone pilot can be very lucrative. However, it can be a challenge to get plugged into these industries.
But if you can get just one industrial inspection client, it could end up being your big money maker as a drone pilot.
Because drones can help industrial inspection clients save BIG money by decreasing their downtimes—that is, the amount of time their plants or assets aren’t running, and therefore not making money—industrial inspection clients are willing to pay a lot for visual drone data.
How much money? A large company could save as much as a few hundred thousand or even a million dollars by using a drone to do an inspection instead of a person.
There are two main categories for industrial inspections: internal and external.
Internal inspections typically require the use of a collision-tolerant indoor drone, like Flyability’s Elios 2, that is specifically designed to fly inside confined spaces.
These types of inspections are done inside huge assets like boilers, pressure vessels, or storage containers, where inspectors need to fly slowly through the inside of the entire asset to determine its condition.
External industrial inspections, on the other hand, don’t require such highly specialized drones.
They can be typically done with many of the more common drone platforms out there, from less expensive drones like the DJI Phantom 4 or Autel Evo II all the way up to the higher-priced DJI Matrice 300.
2. Roof Inspections
Almost every time someone considers buying a home, an inspection is conducted.
One major challenge to home inspections is inspecting the roof. They can be hard to access, if at all, and pictures from the ground are not typically the best representation of its condition.
But with the help of a drone, pilots can safely, quickly, and effectively gather visual data showing inspectors the condition of the roof.
Insurance companies are also using drone pilots to do roof inspections for claims after major storms.
Credit: Thom Milkovic
When a major storm hits an area, claims pour in, and insurance companies need drone pilots to quickly assess the validity of the claims, making the claims process quicker, cheaper, and also safer for the adjusters.
Insurance inspection work can be relatively easy and lucrative work, but it’s important to note that this type of work is often tied to the season—storm season is a boom time, with lots of roof inspection work, while periods of good weather could mean a dip in need.
How to Find Inspection Work
Here are some ways you can find both industrial inspection work and roof inspection work:
Network. Be diligent, join your local Better Business Bureau, make connections on LinkedIn, ask around—once people know you’re a drone pilot, opportunities can pop up around you.
Look for job listings on ZipRecruiter, Indeed, or similar job sites. Look for inspection companies searching for drone pilots and companies looking to hire drone pilots as part of their team. Search for insurance companies looking for drone pilots after major storms.
Cold call/email local realtors and inspection companies. Realtors work with inspection companies all the time. Consider offering a free flight to showcase the value of using drones for collecting visual data in a home inspection. Realtors may also need aerial photography themselves to help sell a home or commercial business.
How to Earn Even More Doing Inspection Work
To hit the ground running doing inspection work doesn’t require special training, especially for roof inspections.
However, if you’re looking to grow your career opportunities, consider getting the training to become a certified inspector.
You can make more money by becoming an industrial inspector or a home inspector and by leveraging the relationships you’ve built working as a drone pilot. Being the drone pilot and the inspector could help you level up and make more money.
There are tracks for you to become a certified commercial property inspector, a certified home inspector, and an American Petroleum Institute (API) certified inspector for industrial assets. First, think about the type of work you want to do, research how much additional money it could make you a year, and then start looking for ways to get certified.
For home inspectors, there are online courses you can take to become certified, and there are other avenues out there for becoming other types of inspectors. The first step is to decide what you want to pursue.
A quick note: When searching for certification courses, make sure you thoroughly vet any online courses you find and confirm that your state accepts them as part of the certification process before you open up your wallet.
Looking for other ways to make money as a drone pilot? Check out our post on Hivemapper, a company trying to map the world by using freelance drone pilots to crowdsource aerial data collection.