Once UAVs are integrated into the U.S. airspace system, over 70,000 new drone-related jobs are estimated in the first three years alone. Here are some frequently asked questions about the nature of these UAV jobs:
Question: So what kinds of jobs are available in the drone industry?
Answer: Many different kinds. Consider that drones need skilled workers to manufacture them, trained operators to pilot them, programmers to coordinate them, and technicians to maintain them. And that’s just the beginning. Other specialists are also required, depending on what a particular drone is to be used for. For example, if a drone is to be used to provide aerial coverage of a televised sporting event, then a camera operator may also be needed. When it comes to UAVs, the variety of drone-related occupations could be as endless as their uses.
For a sample of what drone industry positions are available right now, check the job board below. You can also enter your own occupation title here, such as “UAV technician”, for example:
What kinds of industries will use commercial drones?
There are so many potential uses for drones, no one can predict them all. However, I can tell you which industries are using UAVs now, and which are likely to in the near future. Currently, the largest potential market for UAVs is precision agriculture. Drones are enabling farmers to better monitor their crops, and use highly-efficient spraying techniques tailored to the information gained from that monitoring. This results in higher crop yields, lower costs, and a healthier environment, because less chemicals are needed for spraying. Agricultural drone applications alone are estimated to have a $2 billion economic impact on the U.S. by the end of 2015.
Other foreseeable commercial markets include public safety, weather monitoring, mapping, oil and gas exploration, telecommunications, wildlife monitoring, disaster management, television coverage, movie making, and freight transport. However, considering that many people now work in jobs that didn't even exist 25 years ago, these examples are likely just the tip of the iceberg.
What are some specific applications for commercial drones?
As noted above, precision agriculture has taken an early lead in the race to leverage the capabilities of UAVs. However, it seems that new ways to use UAVs are being discovered on an almost weekly basis. Here are just a few examples of some applications that are being used right now:
- Disaster Management: This is an area where drones are proving invaluable. After a disaster, a UAV can be deployed to quickly gather information. They can be equipped not only with cameras, but radar and possibly other sensor suites to give rescue teams a clearer picture of affected areas. Small drones can also access hard to reach places and provide close-up views, without having to use expensive resources such as helicopters.
- Geographic Information Systems: Drone allows GIS professionals much greater flexibility. They can now capture accurate aerial imagery and transform it into 2-D maps or 3-D models of a specific site. Drone-mounted LIDAR can create a precise digital representation of objects, buildings, and the ground itself.
- Structural Safety Inspections: Inspecting pipelines, oil rigs, power lines, transmission towers, bridges, and wind turbines, can be dangerous work. However, UAVs are making it possible for inspectors to not only see greater levels of detail, but to take thermal readings and detect strain, all without risking life and limb.
- Law Enforcement: After precision agriculture, law enforcement is poised to be the second largest market for commercial drones. The border patrol already uses UAVs to monitor criminal smugglers of migrants and drugs. Some police departments are using them to photographically document crime scenes and search for missing persons. Paris police are currently looking into drones to use for crowd surveillance.
- Traffic Accident Reconstruction: Drones are being used to gather better the data necessary to reconstruct and analyze traffic accidents. What used to take people on the ground with tape measures (resulting in road closures) is now being done with UAV fly-overs.
- Storm Tracking and Research: NASA and NOAA have been sending drones into hurricanes to provide new insight into their behavior. Unmanned systems with specialized sensors to detail weather parameters are ideal for these kinds of dangerous situations.
- Wildlife protection and monitoring: UAVs can provide up-to-date, accurate data on where animals are moving, and environmental factors like deforestation. In Africa, drones are being used to catch and deter poachers.
And in the near future…
- Delivery of consumer goods : By now you’ve probably heard that Amazon is exploring the possibility of using drones to deliver packages. However, DHL is also testing UAV technology. In addition, the U.S. Postal Service is taking a serious look at using drones.
What kind of qualifications are needed to get a job in the drone industry?
For all of their enormous potential, drones are just getting started as an industry. Right now, there are very people who can claim to have 10 years of experience. That's good news for UAV job seekers looking to get their foot in the door. Employers should be much more willing to hire and (perhaps even train) drone specialists looking for their first job in the field.
While exact qualifications will always vary from company to company and depending on the needs of each position, it seems likely that job requirements as a whole are only going to become more stringent with time. In this way, people starting a career in the drone industry now, are probably going to have a big advantage over those starting a career even 5 years from now.
What kind of education do I need to fly drones for a living?
It depends. To fly a drone, you may be able to get by with a 50-hour class and a training certificate. On the other hand, if your goal is a career as a UAV Systems Engineer, you will probably need a Masters degree.
American colleges and universities are now starting to offer UAV education programs. These programs vary greatly in both focus and cost. Check out our drone schools list or search your state for drone schools on our home page, for more information.
What is the salary of a drone pilot?
Though compensation for UAV jobs varies greatly, the starting salary for a drone pilot is typically estimated to be in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. Average salary is just above $100,000 per year. This average is affected by that fact that drone operators willing to work overseas can often earn much higher salaries.
UAV engineers typically earn more on average than pilots, while various drone technicians (imagery analysts, payload operators, maintenance specialists, etc...) can earn somewhat less.
Drone Industry and UAV Jobs Infographic
I've always been more of a visual person. That is, it's always been easier for me to see complex information laid out graphically to help me understand the big picture. And there is a lot of data to digest about the drone industry.
Therefore, I have created an infographic to help you visualize some of the projected economic growth in the drone industry as well as expected career opportunities. This poster incorporates what I think are the important takeaways regarding the coming Unmanned Aerial Vehicle boom. Click on the picture below to enlarge. Enjoy!
Infographic source information: Jenkins, D., & Vasigh, B. (2013) The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States. AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle System International) Economic Report 2013. http://www.auvsi.org