4 Steps to Becoming a Professional Drone Pilot

Logan Campbell -- logan@aerotas.com

At Aerotas, we specialize in getting businesses up and running with complete drone systems, and a big part of that involves setting our clients up to be professional drone pilots.  There is often a lot of confusion about what it means to be a professional drone pilot; it is more than just passing an FAA exam.  Instead, being a professional drone pilot involves a whole suite of professional responsibilities.  Below, we detail the 4 key steps required for being a professional drone pilot. 


Get Your Drone License

The first and most well-known step is to get your FAA Part 107 license.  This is the FAA’s Small UAS certification that allows you to legally operate drones that weigh less than 55 lbs for commercial purposes.  Receiving a Part 107 license involves paying $150 fee and passing a two-hour multiple-choice test at one of the FAA’s many testing centers.  The test covers airspace safety information including regulation, airspace classification, weather, and basic flight operations.  It is similar to the multiple choice test required for receiving a drivers license, in that it is a basic test to make sure you understand the rules of the road.  However, just as with driving a car, simply understanding the rules isn’t enough to make you a competent and professional pilot.  The FAA Part 107 test covers airspace safety rules, but it doesn’t have any hands-on portion to prove real-world proficiency. 


Get Trained to be a Safe Drone Pilot

After receiving the FAA Part 107 license, the next step is to learn how to fly safely.  Before flying professionally, it is essential to have a solid understanding of your aircraft, its limitations, and emergency procedures.  This means having a good grasp of a large number of factors, including how wind and temperature impact performance and how to inspect the aircraft to ensure it is in good operating order.  Further, it is crucial have well-developed emergency procedures defined and practiced. We regularly see unexpected incidents happen in the real world, such as an emergency helicopter entering a project area, or a dangerous event happening on the ground.  In our experience, professional hands-on training is crucial for making professional pilots.  In-person training is required by the most reputable insurers for drone liability coverage, but does not have to be a burden: the comprehensive training included in our Aerotas Mapping System gets stellar reviews from clients and insurers with only a half-day commitment.


Create Deliverable-Focused Drone Operations

Even after completing licensure and safety training, there is still more to becoming a professional pilot.  A safe, legal pilot does not automatically understand what makes for high quality data and deliverables.  Unprofessional pilots will collect gigabytes of photos and videos in the field without a defined mission plan or goal, and wind up with nothing more than pretty pictures.  Well-defined operating procedures start with a defined goal of the deliverable that needs to be produced at the end of the project, then works backward from there to ensure the right data is collected, and that data is collected efficiently and correctly.  Flying a drone without a mission plan is like driving a work truck without a destination, and hoping that you get somewhere useful.  A professional pilot will know exactly what data they need for this mission at hand, as well as how to get that data safely, responsibly, and legally.


Get Good Drone Insurance

Lastly, professional drone operators get insured.  While this is not a legal requirement (at least not yet), it will often be required by clients, and is critical in being a responsible operator.  Drone insurance usually covers two components: the aircraft itself (hull insurance), and the cost of anything the aircraft might damage (liability insurance).  Hull insurance covers your business from loss of valuable hardware, while liability makes sure that you can cover the cost of any damages to people or ground equipment in case of a crash or other issue.  Nearly all standard business liability insurance polices do not cover drone operations due to the standard "aviation exclusion," so special coverage is required.  Note that good quality insurance will cost considerably more if a firm does not have proper safety training and operating procedures.


Being a professional drone pilot involves being licensed, knowing how to fly safely, having a defined and deliverable-oriented operation, and being properly insured.  Skipping any one of these things could open you or your business to serious risk.  At Aerotas, we put together complete drone systems that includes comprehensive training and support for making client teams into professional pilots.  Whether you go work with us or anyone else, it is important for the whole industry that you become a safe and responsible pilot. 

Aerotas is the recognized leader in professional drone programs. To learn how your drone program can be improved, contact us at info@aerotas.com or (949) 335-4323