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Published on August 14th, 2015 | by Jean-Baptiste


Want to get paid to fly drones? Read this. (Part 1 of 2)

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Here in San Francisco, excitement over startups means shop talk bleeds into everything. So when emerging tech like drones start making waves, people talk about it everywhere: At the bar, on the street, in the BART, the Uber, the gym. The only place you’ll be spared from drone talk is the restroom… probably.

Like the Segway of vogues past, we all want to fly a drone at least once. But for the die-hard drone flyboys among us, piloting a drone can even provide a decent living. What’s more is that jumping in now can give you a head start on a soon-to-be burgeoning industry of professional drone operation.

That said, strict regulation and a limited number of current uses make breaking into a career a little tricky for now. But in case that doesn’t ground your ambitions, we’ve made a two-part checklist of what you’ll need to do. We’ll go into the basics of drone jobs and hardware this week, and next week we’ll focus on the rapidly changing legal environment that you’ll have to have a grasp on.

First, pick a role. You’ll be happy to know you’ve got options. Corporations like Amazon and Facebook started putting out job postings last year offering salaries as high as $100,000. That said, they’re typically looking for a few years of experience and/or a pilot’s license for the regular kind of aircraft. So unless you were military or a super-early adopter, you may have trouble breaking in. Smaller startups like Airware need less, but many still require a pilot’s license.

Drone-focused agencies are also sprouting up to provide film, photography, surveying services and more. For some examples, Measure32 provides drones and related data services, and ZMInteractive provides aerial cinematography for Hollywood and corporations.

Small remote controlled drone

Even if a job doesn’t require your own drone, getting practice is a must.

You can also go freelance. Services like SkyCatch’s WORKMODE and connect buyers with a network of contractors that meet specific qualifications. You can even go totally solo if you’ve got some marketing skills—here in SF, drone operators for hire even post ads on Craigslist.

Next, grab some hardware. Unless your employer is big, there’s a good chance you’ll be expected to provide your own drone. And even if you’re not, it’s a no-brainer that you should get some drone practice.

Exactly which drone you should buy totally depends on what sort of business you’ll be doing. If it’s still photography, DJI’s Phantom 3 models carry built-in gimballed cameras, have pretty rave reviews and start at $999. But features vary enormously, so it’s best to do your own research. Do note that regulation gets pretty strict for drones that weigh more than 55lbs, so always keep that in mind.

Also remember that a drone isn’t like a remote controlled car: A single crash can severely damage it beyond repair. So if you’ve never flown a drone before, consider getting a cheaper drone for starters as you’re bound to have some mishaps while you’re still learning. Decent starter drones go for as low as $60-80, such as the UDI U818A, which even includes a camera.

But that’s all the fun part. Hover over next week for a less-thrilling but super important lesson on drone law.

About the Author

Jean-Baptiste 'JB' is the editor in chief of BayLive. You can reach him directly at

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