1. Quick Summary
  2. Can You Make Money with a Drone?
  3. Key Takeaways
  4. How You Can Make a Full-Time Living Flying Drones
  5. Do You Need a License to Have a Drone Business?
  6. How Much Does It Cost to Start a Drone Business?
  7. Frequently Asked Questions
  8. Making Money with a Drone
  9. Conclusion

The drone industry is getting bigger every day but still, many people think a drone is a fancy toy. Those who own one know it is much more than that.

Owning a drone can be a great income source, present many business opportunities, and be a great side hustle.

Can You Make Money with a Drone?

Yes, drone pilots can earn a full-time living or a lucrative side income by offering drone services like surveying, photography, inspections, education, and more. The key is obtaining a commercial drone pilot license and building a portfolio to showcase your skills.

Key Takeaways

  • Drone pilots can earn $35-$150/hour, with experienced certified pilots earning over $5,000/month.

  • Common drone business opportunities include surveying, photography, inspections, education, and more.

  • Getting a commercial drone pilot license and building a portfolio are essential steps to start a drone business.

How You Can Make a Full-Time Living Flying Drones

A drone pilot can make a full-time living. Freelance drone pilots generally earn between $35 and $150 per hour. Beginner commercial pilots can start out making money, but the larger salaries go to experienced, certified, and skilled drone pilots. They can earn over $5,000 per month.

Now that you know how much you can earn, it's time to learn how to earn these big salaries. We've discussed various ways to make money flying drones and how to set up your drone business.

1. Survey Land

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Land surveying has been revolutionized by drone technology. It’s faster and more efficient than plodding around on the ground. A drone operator can quickly capture high-quality images for land surveyors.

But to perform survey work, you'll need to equip your drone with the necessary sensors and software to capture accurate data. LIDAR-equipped drones make accurate aerial readings, creating 3D models with centimeter-level accuracy. 

They detect features that would be invisible to less sophisticated methods.

A solid understanding of land surveying principles and techniques is also necessary.

Although less common than other drone jobs, surveying pays big bucks. Expect to earn between $500 and $2,000 per project.

2. Stock Photography

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You can capture high-quality images and videos. Then, you can sell them on stock photography websites. They will be used for various applications. 

These include:

  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Web design
  • YouTube

First, you'll need an understanding of what images are in demand. Keep in mind that the key is to provide high-volume and high-quality stock photography.

Some platforms to use include:

  • Unsplash
  • Adobe Stock
  • Shutterstock

You can earn anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars per image. Some

3. Building Inspection

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If you’re a certified drone operator you can offer different levels of inspections for:

  • Bridges
  • Skyscrapers
  • Factories
  • Homes

These structures all need some form of inspection. You must understand what to look for and how to create an inspection report.

You can earn up to $500 hourly.

4. Real Estate

Aerial real estate drone photography services are a popular way to earn money. This form of photography is particularly popular among real estate agents with high-end properties. 

It’s the best way to show:

  • Landscaping
  • Size of property
  • Outdoor living space
  • Pools

All you need is a drone and the ability to capture high-quality images and videos. But you'll need the proper licensing and permits to operate commercially.

Although it depends on your location, expect to earn between $200 and $500 per shoot.

5. Courses for Drone Education

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Many people are interested in learning how to use a drone. If you have a knack for teaching, this might be your vocation.

You only have to record your classes once and then you make money selling them over and over again.

You can market the course on:

You’ll earn money based on the length and content. But look for $50 to $500.

6. Agriculture Industry

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In the past, farmers had to manually go out in the fields at ground level to survey their crops. Many crucial items were missed.

Now that laborious task is eliminated with an agricultural drone.

Aerial photography can detect issues affecting crop growth like:

  • Weeds
  • Crop growth progress
  • Insect infestation

It’s also possible to detect how much sunlight crops are receiving. With this information, farmers can determine how to treat their crops. They’ll know whether to use fertilizer or pesticides. 

The results are:

  • Reduced operating costs
  • Improved crop quality
  • Increased yield rate

Drones can also be used to deploy materials. 

These include:

  • Desiccants
  • Seeds
  • Pesticide
  • Fertilize
  • Herbicide
  • Fungicide

Drones go beyond merely spraying. They offer more precision and accuracy than traditional methods.

The average agricultural drone pilot earns $37,000 to $41,500 yearly.

7. Construction Drones

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Using building information modeling (BIM) drone surveying provides critical data. 

This data can reduce:

  • Construction error
  • Omission
  • Re-work

Drones allow contractors to view the project's progress. They repeatedly collect data.

Besides aerial inspections, some ways that drones are used on construction sites include:

  • Digital planning technology.
  • Project progress monitoring.
  • Accurate digital models.

Before drones, on-foot manual inspections and expensive helicopters were used for construction. Drones are a more efficient and inexpensive alternative.

You must have a drone pilot’s license. A construction drone operator can expect to earn about $95,000 per year.

8. Public Safety Drones

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First responders use drone photography for search-and-rescue missions as well as disaster relief. These are primarily used when trying to:

  • Produce 3D maps
  • Search for victims
  • Assess damage

Drones equipped with thermal cameras can help first responders see in:

  • Fog
  • Foliage
  • Dust
  • Smoke

Thermal imaging can also help in seeing great distances in low light. There is an increased demand for first responders drone work.

A public Safety drone operator generally earns between $49,000 and $102,000 annually.

9. Wedding Video and Photos

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Drones are increasing in popularity at outdoor weddings. As requests for aerial videos rise. In one shot, a drone emphasizes the location’s beauty, especially at destination weddings. A traditional videographer would be unable to achieve this.

Reach out to local wedding photography businesses and ask about partnering with them to get gigs. You could also use a freelance platform like Thumbtack to find future brides and grooms.

You can earn up to $150 per hour shooting weddings as a freelance drone pilot.

10. Cinematic Video

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We discussed stock photography, but there is also a growing demand for stock cinematic videos. You’ll want to capture beautiful slow-motion shots with gorgeous vistas.

Many of these videos are used for:

  • Television shows
  • Movies
  • Commercials
  • YouTube

You’ll need to have high-quality equipment with a high-resolution camera. It will take a lot of practice to capture the high-quality video footage needed.

You must create a portfolio to showcase your skills.

Some drone operators have sold cinematic shots for upwards of $2,000.

11. Environmental Regulation Compliance

Drones are used to track down poachers during lobster season and with fisheries. Drones also are used by biologists. They use them to count birds and polar bears.

Law enforcement will also use drones to enforce laws like hard-to-detect illegal logging. Another illegal activity that drones can detect is marijuana growing in remote areas.

A professional drone pilot can generally earn between $35 and $150 per hour.

12. Hotel and Resorts

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Showcasing a beautiful resort or hotel is easy with drone footage. Aerial videos and images give a unique perspective to a marketing mix.

Drones allow resorts to stand out and give potential guests a better view of what to expect.

Airbnb also uses drones to highlight its properties.

Earnings for drone pilots run between $35 and $150 hourly.

13. Television Industry and Music Videos

Creating stunning videos is a fun way to be a drone pilot. Aerial footage adds a unique and captivating perspective to music videos. It enhances the overall production quality.

You can offer services directly to clients, or you can connect with production companies and music studios that specialize in video production.

Drone operators who work in the film and television industries earn between $50,000 and $100,000 annually.

14. Business and Company Projects

Aerial footage is often desired to enhance a business’s marketing efforts. Some areas the footage used include:

  • Capturing construction sites.
  • Aerial shot of headquarters.
  • Showcasing a new product from a unique perspective.

Network with both local and regional businesses to identify potential clients. Focus on the benefits of drone photography. Let them know that this is an opportunity to get eye-catching drone footage to improve marketing efforts and increase profit through sales.

Remember to build a portfolio of high-quality work. Establish yourself as a professional.

Depending on the complexity, you can charge anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per project.

15. Licensing Images and Videos

Licensing an image is like selling stock photos. But instead, you sell to news agencies and businesses. For example, if you caught aerial photos or video of a major fire or storm you could sell it to a news outlet.

Social media platforms also offer opportunities to earn money through image licensing. For example, YouTube lets you monetize your videos through ads and sponsorships.

Drone-specific marketplaces like AirVuz connect clients looking for aerial footage with drone operators. A fixed fee is offered for each project, depending on the job's scope and complexity.

16. Drone Deliveries

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Drone deliveries are an innovative way for businesses to save time. Case in point: Amazon Prime Air moves packages in under an hour.

And since they don’t cause air pollution, drone delivery is eco-friendly. Sell to local businesses for lightweight items.

A standard drone can carry one to four pounds, but there are heavy-lift drones that can handle up to 45 pounds.

An entry-level drone delivery pilot can make $35 hourly.

17. Private Investigation Services

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It's sometimes a little tricky using drones for private investigations. But it can be done, for example, drones can be useful in:

  • Litigation cases requiring aerial footage.
  • Crime scene or search grid.
  • Accident reconstruction.

Drones are often used in pre-surveillance planning. They help investigators map out approach and exit routes. They also show the best sites for stationary surveillance.

There are different state laws for using drones for surveillance For example, Texas doesn’t allow drone use for human surveillance and any footage must be destroyed whether people are identifiable or not.

Be sure to check the laws in your state.

18. Drones for Fishing

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This is one of the hottest areas for drone pilots. Commercial fishermen are always looking for that lucrative school of fish. It can be the difference between a prosperous day or going home empty-handed.

Submersible drones and waterproof drones can spot these schools of fish. A drone pilot can direct fishermen as to where to go.

These drones must be sturdy and able to handle high winds.

Recreational fishermen will also want the information a drone can bring.

The standard drone pilot rate applies for fishing. They can make between $35 and $150 per hour.

Do You Need a License to Have a Drone Business?

In the U.S. you need a license to operate a drone under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Small UAS (small unmanned aircraft system) Rule (Part 107). This is true whether you are a commercial or recreational drone pilot.

If you want to fly a drone commercially, you must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. This demonstrates you understand the regulations, operating procedures, and requirements for safely flying drones.

How Hard is Drone Certification

The FAA Part 107 pilot license test has 60 questions, and you need to score a minimum of 70 percent to pass. However, although challenging, 90 percent of test takers pass.

The multiple-choice test covers knowledge of:

  • Airspace
  • Weather
  • Regulations
  • Airport operations
  • Aeronautical decision-making
  • Other flight-related topics

Although more difficult than a driving test, the commercial drone license test isn't impossible. The FAA offers a free study guide to prepare.

The FAA will also run a background check on you. They send your information to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to run the check.

If you pass the test and the background check comes back clean, the FAA will issue a temporary certificate to use. You’ll receive your permanent certificate in about a month.

Despite having a commercial certificate, you still must register each drone you plan to use with the FAA.

To remain current, your certificate must be renewed every two years by taking a shorter 40-question multiple-choice test. You still must receive a 70 percent or better score to pass.

How Much Does It Cost to Start a Drone Business?

The first expense is the drone. If you want to do commercial work, you'll need a better drone. A commercial drone costs between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on what kind of business you decide to enter.

You'll need a good computer to edit your footage—figure on spending about $1,500. And you'll need software for both your drone and computer. This is especially true if you plan on doing mapping or photo editing.

Your license will cost $175. And the area you live in may require a business license.

And you’ll need drone insurance. That will run you between $500 and $750 per year.

Other equipment you might need, depending on what jobs you’ll take include thermal cameras and 3D imaging software.

Should a Drone Business be Incorporated?

A formal incorporation isn’t required with drone businesses. But it might be prudent. An LLC or corporation will protect you and your family from financial and civil liabilities.

Contact your Secretary of State's office or get help from an attorney. Once you've decided on a legal structure, you'll need to register your business. Go to your Secretary of State's website for instructions. Fees are generally less than $100.

You’ll receive liability protection from incorporating or forming an LLC, but you’ll also garner legitimacy from potential clients.

Frequently Asked Questions

A drone can open up many avenues when it comes to jobs. Many drone pilots make a full-time living or have a great side hustle. But you might still have some questions about how you can make money with your drone.

We've got you covered. Here are the most frequently asked questions.

1. Are there too many drone pilots?

There are 368,604 certified commercial drone pilots in the U.S., and the pool of commercial pilots grows by 47,000 annually. But there is also an increase in the demand for drone pilots. The agricultural drone sector alone is expected to expand at a compound growth rate of 22 percent.

2. How do I market my drone business?

To get business, first decide what your niche is. Do you want to do weddings, or are you interested in land surveying? Then you must network in those industries. Keep an eye out on Indeed for opportunities. Upwork and Fiverr can also offer opportunities.

3. Is it expensive to start a drone business?

There are high initial startup costs with a drone business. You must first purchase a drone which could cost as much as $20,000 depending on how high-quality you want the images to be. You must also pay the FAA's $175 commercial certification fee and buy drone insurance. But most of all there is a time investment needed to become good enough to sell your services.

Making Money with a Drone

From monitoring crops in the agricultural world to showing the perfect landscape within the real estate niche, there are many ways to earn money with a drone.

The first step is to get your FAA commercial drone certification. Then you must become experienced enough to handle projects.

Learn to network and promote your services.

A commercial drone pilot can potentially be a lucrative career, while at the same time rewarding and fun.


The article highlights the numerous opportunities for making money with a drone, from aerial photography and surveying to construction and public safety applications.

To start a successful drone business, key steps include obtaining a commercial drone pilot license, building a portfolio to showcase expertise, and networking with potential clients.

By becoming a professional drone operator and offering specialized services, individuals can earn a full-time living or a lucrative side income, with experienced pilots earning over $5,000 per month. With the growing demand for drone technology, a well-executed drone business can be a rewarding and profitable endeavor.

Bob Haegele

About the Author

Bob Haegele Bob Haegele

Bob Haegele, your personal finance guru, draws on years of experience to simplify complex financial concepts and offer actionable advice.

Dedicated to helping you achieve financial success, Bob is here to guide you through every step of your journey to financial freedom with expertise in areas such as investing, student loans, and credit cards. His work has appeared on Business Insider,, and other nationally recognized outlets.

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