Jackie Dujmovic, CEO Hover UAS, Australia


The market for pilots to operate unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as drones, is about to take off. Today, most UAS pilots work as freelance contractors, flying UAS for major companies and small businesses. They use UAS for everything from gathering thermal images of the ground to producing 3-D models of buildings. But companies are starting to hire Part 107 Remote Pilot in Command (107 pilots) into career positions with entry level jobs with the promises of aircraft to operate, training, and benefits.

Career UAS Pilots

While UAS pilots provide new opportunities for jobs and careers, the industry has only been in existence since September 2016 when FAA regulations created the commercial UAS industry. Due to the newness of this career path, The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides no data, which means they have not begun tracking the industry.

Recently there have been salary surveys and stories about expectations for pricing 107 pilot services and careers, concluding that the industry is so new comprehensive salary data is not available. UAV Coach conducted a survey of 107 pilots, which is a good first step in understanding 107 pilot pay: Drone Pilot Salary — How Much Money do Drone Pilots Make? The UAV Coach study asks the question, “Are there any salaried positions out there for drone operators, or is it a strictly freelance/gig economy sort of thing?” The answer is, career positions are beginning to be created and companies are looking for entry level 107 pilots.

UAS are increasingly becoming part of workflow for companies, which is leading to the creation of entry level career jobs for FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot in Command. UAS operations have traditionally started with a subject matter expert, such as a geologist for a mining company or surveyor for a construction company, convincing management of the benefits of UAS operations. That person then is put in charge of selecting the company UAS and developing the UAS program, while typically being the first UAS pilot. UAS operations have matured within companies and the realization that these subject matter experts are too expensive to be the UAS operator, when the company could hire an entry level Part 107 Remote Pilot in Command and train them on the specific company UAS operations for a lot less.

DroneHive has been providing UAS services for the clients for more than three years. Last year, 90% of their work was contract service related: deploying pilots to the field for expert data collection across all industries demanding aerial data for business intelligence, with only 10 percent of client requests for full-time project work or remote pilot headhunting. Full-time is defined as minimum 40 hours a week. In 2020, there has already been a shift in client demand full-time career 107 pilots.  DroneHive found the demand in 2019 Q3 and January 2020 has doubled from 2019 as companies look to support their UAS program growth through Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) hiring, where the company provides the drone, insurance, training, and benefits. For example, Google’s UAS airline, Wing, retained DroneHive to source entry-level career 107 pilots with the intent to hire aggressively and expand their drone delivery operations.

Annual compensation for contract services, as identified in the UAV Coach drone pilot pay survey, can be more than $100,000. But to support these services the 107 pilot needs to purchase the drone and the sensing equipment; pay for overhead expenses, including insurance and training; have a plan for marketing services; and finally invoice and collections to get paid.

Contrast to the compensation for entry-level full-time positions, where the company owns the UAS, sensors, and processing software, pays all the overhead expenses, plus is offering benefits and training. The risks for the 107 pilot are far lower and, as UAS programs continue to grow, the 107 pilot will have a career pathway. Some companies prefer 107 pilots with very little experience so that the company can provide training specific to the missions operated by that company.

According to DroneHive, drone pilot entry level positions, with limited education and training, base salary can be $30,000 to $40,000 base salary per year, which equates to $15 to $20 per hour for a full-time position of 40 hours per week. The Google Wing drone pilot jobs are being offered at an annual salary of $62,400, which equates to $30 per hour. These salary levels compare to the average entry-level job salary in the U.S. is $28,000, according to Glassdoor, which equates to $13.50 per hour.

107 pilot jobs are opening new opportunities for job seekers that just graduated high school to get into a career that is exciting and experiencing high demand.

UAS Pilot Requirements

To become a FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot in Command, the applicant must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Pass a knowledge test, which costs $150 and must be taken at a FAA Test Facility
  • Complete a TSA background check
  • Able to read, write, speak, and understand English
  • Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone

The cost to become a 107 pilot is minimal, with $150 to take the test. The cost to take prep course and hands on flying can be as much as $1,200. Typically, a Part 107 Remote Pilot in Command, required 20 hours of studying to pass the FAA Aviation Knowledge test, if the pilot has no aviation training. There is no flight proficiency or medical required.

While a lot can be learned from YouTube and going out and flying, taking professional training for drone operations with a trained instructor is important to improve piloting proficiency and skills. Specialty training in areas such as search and rescue, bridge surveying, and cinematography are important to learn the best practices for these industries.

Compared to Airline Pilots

In comparison, entry level airline pilot jobs start at $19,000 ($9 per hour) , with an average of $63,581 ($30.60 per hour), according to ZipRecuriter.

Airline pilot training costs $63,995  to become a commercial pilot with the basic certification to get hired as a commercial pilot when starting with a private pilot certificate or $80,995 from zero experience, according to ATP Flight School.

Minimum FAA certification include:

  • Private pilot license
  • Instrument Rating
  • Commercial Pilot Certificate – min 520 hours
  • Flight Instructor Certificate
  • Multi-engine rating

It takes a minimum of three months to become a pilot and earn a private pilot license. To become an airline pilot, it takes more than two years to gain the required 1,500 hours flight time. Plus, to exercise the privileges of a commercial pilot license, you must hold either a second- or first-class medical certificate, which can be obtained through an aeromedical examiner (AME).

Conclusion

As the UAS industry transitions to become part of the workflow for businesses and career positions are created, salaries can be expected to align with entry level positions, rather than the project-based income model.

By Dr. Tulinda Larsen
Membership Advisor
Women And Drones

“Expert Insight” is the independent views and opinions of the submitting named author of this article.

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