Each and every one of us dream of making a career out of our hobbies. If you started out by playing with RC vehicles and aeroplanes, and eventually moved to operate drones, you can actually make a living off of flying one. Drone pilots are needed in a few different industries, the most notable of which are real estate, marketing, film and television. However, you can’t just pick up your drone and start flying around and get paid. You need to undergo special training and get a licence to legally and professionally fly a drone.
Steps to Becoming a Professional Drone Pilot
Step 1: Research
Obviously, the first step is to search for which industries offer these kinds of jobs and choose the ones that pique your interest. You can use the CASA list of RPA operator certificate holders as a great reference point. Delve in deeper into the companies you find to see how and where they use the drones.
Step 2: Earn the RePL
RePL is short for Remote Pilot Licence, which you have to earn. But before you take up the test required to earn this license, you have to go through commercial drone training. This licence is issued by CASA and it allows operators to use drones with an MTOW (maximum take-off weight) of less than 7kg and drones with an MTOW of less than 25kg. If you want to operate a drone that exceeds this MTOW, your license will be valid for specific drone types from named manufacturers, up to the max allowed weight. In case you didn’t know, the different types of drones include fixed-wing, multirotor, helicopter and powered lift drones.
Taking up commercial drone training will provide you with the info and skills to get the licence. Training includes theoretical and practical instruction. You can study the theoretical part online or in in-person classes. Practical training is conducted at training sites, where professional trainers teach you how to safely and accurately operate a drone. Once you go through the training, your training will apply to CASA for your licence. The licence is recognised all across Australia and lasts forever. You can go through extra training and add more classes to your licence whenever you’d like.
Step 3: Get an ARN
An ARN, or aviation reference number, allows you to interact with CASA. You can use it to obtain and hold permissions, authorisations and licences from CASA. This also includes getting your RePL. All you have to do is fill out a form with your details and verify your identity using your passport, birth certificate, citizenship certificate or ImmiCard.
Step 4: Register Your Drone
If you have your own drone that you intend on using for your job, you’ll need to register it with CASA. The registration is free of charge for drones weighing less than 500g. Everything above 500g you’ll need to pay $40 for. You can register your drone and download the registration certificate through their website. You’ll need to renew the registration year. If you lose or sell your drone, you’ll need to de-register it.
Step 5: Get Liability Insurance
Consider getting liability insurance to protect yourself financially in the event of:
- Losing or damaging drones, ground equipment and payloads
- Losing or damaging electronic data or media
- Property damage or injury caused by your drone
- Privacy claims against you
Step 6: Apply For Jobs
After completing all of the steps above, you can apply for a job. You’ll need to highlight your skills and experiences using drones in your free time to set yourself apart from other candidates. Some of the key skills for a professional drone pilot include:
- Drone Operating Skills – A good drone pilot is one capable of completing tasks safely and accurately, and landing the drone without any damage.
- Industry Skills – You need to understand the technicalities of the specific industry you’re applying in. For instance, if you’re applying for an exploration job, you’ll need to know how to conduct LiDAR and multispectral survey missions, and know photogrammetry.
- Communication Skills – Obviously, you’ll need to be capable of clearly communicating and relaying information to ground crews in different areas.
- Computer Skills – You’ll probably have to use a computer to plan your flight and process data or videos you capture. Video editing, drone mapping and photogrammetry software are commonly used by professional operators.
- Data Management – You might have to collect and manage data.
Common Duties for Drone Operators
The duties may vary based on the industry your work in and your role within the company. Generally, though, expect to do some of the following:
- Liaising with co-workers and clients to determine their needs
- Planning a mission
- Inspecting your drone and relevant hardware to ensure they’re in proper working condition
- Controlling a drone
- Taking and managing photos, video or data
- Applying products, such as seeds or fertilisers
- Keeping your drone up to date with the latest trends and software