How to Become a Drone Pilot in 7 Steps (With Salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 18, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

As drone technology advances, more industries, such as real estate and construction, have started using the technology. Businesses and government agencies hire commercial drone pilots who can operate drones to capture images, video, or data. If you're considering a career as a drone pilot, it's beneficial to learn more about this career choice and the steps you can take to become one. In this article, we explain what a drone pilot is, share how to become a drone pilot, list what they do, and provide salary details.

What is a drone pilot?

A drone pilot is a professional who operates a drone, which is a crewless or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). These professionals operate drones using remote controls or automated software. People can pilot drones for recreational or work purposes. A commercial drone pilot is someone who flies drones for businesses, companies, government agencies, and military groups.

Related: How to Become a Helicopter Pilot: A Guide and Examples

How to become a drone pilot

You can learn how to become a drone pilot by following these seven steps:

1. Purchase your drone

The first step to becoming a commercial drone pilot is purchasing a drone. Some companies may provide a drone for pilots to use, but many commercial operators buy their own to practise their technical skills. You can thoroughly research and compare makes and models that meet your specific needs before purchasing one. Some factors to consider include price, reviews, specifications, size, and various capabilities, such as the image and video quality. Once you have acquired a drone, it can help you decide if you want to work as an independent drone pilot.

2. Register your drone

After purchasing your drone, you can register it using Transport Canada's online portal. Transport Canada requires that drone pilots register all drones weighing between 250 g and 25 kg. This process usually takes five minutes to complete and costs $5. To register your drone, Transport Canada requires the following information:

  • the purchase date

  • specifications (make, model, type, serial number, and weight of drone)

  • a valid credit card

After registering your drone, you can clearly mark it with its registration number. Registration can help ensure the drone is returned to you if it gets lost and someone finds it. Also, if the manufacturer recalls the drone model, Transport Canada may notify you.

3. Pass your exam(s)

Transport Canada requires commercial drone pilots to pass exams as a prerequisite to earning a pilot certificate. Before taking your exams, you can review the latest eligibility requirements and guidelines for your area and determine the industry you wish to work in. Studying independently or through an online study group can help you prepare for the exams. You can also explore study options near you, such as online training courses or study guides, to help you prepare for your exam. Here's some information regarding each exam:

Small Basic Exam

Passing the online Small Basic Exam allows you to operate your drone in uncontrolled airspace, but never over bystanders. The Small Basic Exam consists of 35 multiple-choice questions, and you have 90 minutes to complete the exam. You pass this exam if you score 65% or higher. The results appear in your portal immediately after finishing the exam, and you can take it as many times as you require to pass. You receive your Pilot Certificate - Basic Operations after passing this exam.

Small Advanced Exam

Before taking the Small Advanced Exam, Transport Canada requires you to pass the Small Basic Exam. Passing the Small Advanced Exam allows you to operate your drone in controlled airspace and above bystanders. These factors may influence whether you can work as a commercial drone pilot for the government or the entertainment industry.

The Small Advanced Exam consists of 50 multiple-choice questions, and you have 60 minutes to complete the exam. You pass this exam if you score 80% or higher. The results appear in your portal immediately after finishing the exam, and you can take it as many times as you require until you pass.

4. Complete a flight review

If you're pursuing a Pilot Certificate - Advanced Operations, Transport Canada requires you to complete a flight review after passing your online Small Advanced Exam. A Transport Canada-approved drone pilot administers the flight review, testing various operating skills and safety standards. You can schedule a flight review by contacting a self-declared drone flight school. To take part in a flight review, the school requires:

  • proof of your passing result on the Small Basic Exam

  • a valid government-issued identification

  • the Certificate of Registration for the drone you use during the review

Within 24 hours after completing the flight review, your reviewer submits your results, which you receive via e-mail. If necessary, you can take another flight review the following day. Once you pass, you can apply for a Pilot Certificate - Advanced Operations.

Related: 16 Examples of the Best Certifications for Your Career

5. Practise flying

Once you have your certificate, you can begin working as a commercial drone pilot. Many employers look for drone experience when hiring new pilots, so practising your flying skills can help you qualify for more roles. Depending on your interests, you may also want to practise making videos or taking photographs. This skill can help you earn a specific role in marketing or entertainment.

6. Explore career opportunities

Commercial drone pilots have opportunities to work full-time or part-time in various industries. You may work directly for a company or work as a freelance operator. If you freelance, companies can hire you on a contract basis to carry out projects. For example, a freelance pilot may work for several real estate agencies, taking videos for their websites.

Some drone pilots begin their careers by completing projects as a side job and building their portfolios. For example, they may work another job and complete part-time drone projects in their spare time. This strategy can help develop your technical skills, build client connections, and gain experience while earning additional income.

Related: Everything You Need to Know about the Job Market (With Tips)

7. Stay updated

An important part of being a commercial drone pilot is staying updated on the current regulations and guidelines. Transport Canada requires drone pilots to renew their certificates every two years by passing a recurrent knowledge test. You can check your local guidelines regularly to ensure you're meeting current standards.

Related: 11 Opportunities for Development to Improve Your Professionalism

What does a drone pilot do?

A commercial drone pilot's primary responsibility involves operating a drone to collect images or data. Their daily tasks may vary depending on the sector in which they work, but some common duties include:

  • capturing aerial photos, film, or data

  • overseeing vehicle performance and maintenance upkeep

  • planning flight paths and monitoring drone flights

  • meeting with clients to discuss data

  • reviewing regulations and complying with local flight laws

  • monitoring weather to ensure that flying is possible

Some sectors that commonly employ drone pilots include:

  • Real estate: Real estate agencies may hire drone pilots to take aerial photos and videos of a property. Drone pilots capture the images and data necessary to create 3D virtual home tours for real estate websites.

  • Marketing: Many marketing companies hire drone operators for their campaigns. For example, a resort may hire a drone pilot to capture photos and videos to use in a televised commercial.

  • Surveying: Drone pilots can help surveyors collect information for new projects and maps. When drone pilots survey, they photograph the ground multiple times from various angles, tagging each image with specific coordinates.

  • Building and construction: Construction companies often work with drone pilots to create 3D images of new constructions. Building inspectors may also work with drone pilots to collect information about new buildings.

  • Entertainment: Some drone pilots work in the entertainment industry. These professionals gather images and videos for concerts, movies, and live sporting events.

  • Insurance: Insurance companies may use drone pilots to collect information regarding insurance claims. For example, they may have a drone pilot fly over a specific site to gather data for a risk assessment.

  • Excavation: Drone pilots may work in the mining industry to collect essential mapping information.

  • Safety: Some drone pilots gather thermal imaging data, which helps public safety professionals, such as firefighters.

Salary for drone pilots

The national average salary for a drone pilot is $51,177 per year. Salaries for drone pilots can vary based on experience, location, and the sector in which they work. For example, a commercial drone pilot who captures footage for concerts with large audiences may earn more than a drone pilot surveying land for a mining company.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location. Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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