How to Start a Career as a Professional Drone Pilot?

To tell you the truth I don’t like drones. In a sense I feel that sooner or later they will take away jobs of real pilots.

Plus, I don’t see much fun in flying a drone, when in the first place what I want is to be in the air. Second, it is something like the aircraft is flying in the air, but the pilot is still on the ground.

Putting aside my personal opinions I would like to tell you how you can make a career as a pilot of unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

Opportunities are abound for pilot of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) as the craze and their usage is finding new boundaries.

You can read the FAA small UAS (sUAS) Part 107 rule to learn about the rules and laws governing their air operation.

Drone is finding more and more work in the US film and TV industry as per the Section 333 exemption waivers by the FAA. On the other hand, demand for experienced military and commercial pilots has increased for operating government UAS devices

Tony Carmean, partner / producer of pioneering UAS cinematography firm Aerial MOB, and Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) share some tips on how you can become a UAS pilot as per the new rules.

What are the requirements to operate a UAS on hire?

Do you want to work commercially as a UAS pilot? You need:

  • To be at least 16 years of age
  • To have a Part 107 drone airman or remote pilot certificate
  • Pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA approved testing center

A second route is:

  • You should have a current Part 61 private pilot certificate or above
  • Complete an sUAS online training courses offered by the FAA.

UAS pilots who are hired by film and TV production houses should have a minimum of current Part 61 private pilot certificate as they work under Section 333 exemptions.

In case the FAA requirements are not sufficient, a UAS pilot will have to undergo more stringent training as required by insurance companies

UAS pilots on government and military service are required to have conventional commercial pilot certificate.

Bachelor of Science degree in UAS operations is provided by some 50 colleges worldwide. Courses for obtaining autonomous vehicles accreditation from Aviation Accreditation Board International is provide by dozens of colleges.

Do UAS devices have any operational limitations?

According to the basic rules mentioned in Part 107, a UAS must:

  • Weigh less than 55 pounds
  • Should not be operated above 400 feet from ground level
  • Can be operated during daylight
  • Fly in the Class G airspace
  • fly in the line of sight of the UAS pilot

waivers may be given to UAS pilots from these and other rules for certain missions under the Section 333 exemptions.

What is the hiring procedure for UAS operators and How are they paid?

The UAS field is still evolving and their usage and benefits are being felt in many new occupations. They may be used in law enforcement, agriculture and firefighting.

It may become important to obtain a UAS remote pilot certificate for some occupations, and may be an important determinant in hiring and compensation.

These days, operators are marketing their services freely, such as providing aerial images of properties or homes for real estate agents.

Do UAS operators need to have conventional piloting skills?

According to Wynne, drone pilots do not necessarily need to have flying skills. The individual should be professional and should have thorough understanding, training and knowledge to fulfill their mission.

It matters little whether they started from scratch and became UAS pilot or got trained as aviators in the traditional sense.

In the entertainment industry, the UAS pilot need to have knowledge of cinematography, whereas real-world piloting skills are of secondary importance. Most UAS pilots work as independent contractors in the entertainment industry and earn between 1,000 to 2,000 in a day.

According to Carmean, hiring is mostly done through networking and professional contacts, and the pilot should know his or her role, the lingo and the etiquette, and how to conduct at the movie set.

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