Sky’s the Limit: The Economic Value of Drones

by Inga Yandell

Crafting a new career and creating your own job has never been easier. In fact, solo entrepreneurs earning six figure incomes is a tangible reality with a book explaining how to do it! This growing free-agent field is expertly explored by independent journalist, Elaine Pofeldt in her new book: The Million-Dollar, One-person Business.

Clearly the avenues, opportunities and definitions around how we earn a living are expanding—mostly due to technology. New technology is firmly ensconced in modern culture and one of the most ubiquitous innovations transforming a diverse arena of human roles in the workforce are drones!

Guest author and tech enthusiast, Oliver McClintock, will unpack 40 of the best drone business ideas for 2018 in this special three part series for BE Journal. Drones have utility to an enormous range of applications and entry-levels, from large-scale enterprises to independent entrepreneurs…the accessibility and adaptability of drones means that, the sky’s the limit when it comes to their potential and our economic future!

Part One: Photography Drone Business Ideas

It is no secret that the demand for drones is skyrocketing across the globe. The global drone market is forecasted to be $127 billion by 2020! Every day, businesses and drone pilots are coming up with new drone business ideas that are fueling an entrepreneurship boom. A combination of new technology, falling prices, and new regulations have combined to unleash aerial advances like never before. Each of these drone uses has potential for a new model or plan, which means there is an opportunity for you to get creative!

If you are looking for how to make money with drones, this is the right place! The opportunities are almost endless, and we are here to help you figure out the best drone business ideas for your situation. It is not as easy as just buying a drone and having people pay you for pictures, however. The FAA has lined out the US rules (Part 107) for commercial drone operations, and drone pilots need to pass a test to become licensed before using drones for business, or face hefty fines.

Once you are an experienced drone pilot, have a drone of your own, and are Part 107 licensed, you are ready to make money with drones! (If you are not licensed, a training class can help you get there). There is way more to having a quadcopter business than just taking pictures of people’s houses and property.

In this series I aim to give you a sense of some of the hottest markets and opportunities to make money with drones right now!

1. Residential Real Estate Drone Photography + Videography

Residential real estate photography is among the best methods to figure out how to use drones for business. Many realtors and homeowners are looking for a way to make their property stand out in a crowded market. With so many buyers searching for homes online, having quality aerial photography and video can help a home sell faster and for more money. We recommend the very popular DJI Phantom 4 Pro or DJI Mavic Pro for real estate photography first timers.

2. Commercial Real Estate Drone Photography + Videography

The commercial real estate is another, arguably more lucrative opportunity for aerial video. Commercial real estate sites are typically larger than residential sites and therefore can effectively use drones to showcase the larger area. Large commercial clients also usually will have a larger budget than residential realtors due to the value of the properties being higher. Aerial video can specifically highlight property features such as specialized assets.

3. Drone Sports Videography

Drones can capture perspectives that have never before been seen in extreme sports. An experienced drone operator can cost much less than a helicopter and get much more closeup footage, which makes for some excellent surfing videos. Filming practice to analyze plays, taking a video of matches to review performance, and getting new perspectives are always that new drone pilots could take advantage here. Many pilots are using the Phantom 4 Pro to get aerial shots of extreme sports by using the ActiveTrack technology which allows the drone to lock on to a moving target. By locking in an extreme sports client, entrepreneurs could excel with this as a gateway to other drone business ideas!

4. Drone Wedding Photography + Videography

Everyone wants their wedding to stand out, especially in the age of social media. Combine that with the ridiculous prices that wedding photographers charge, and aerial wedding videos could be a very lucrative drone business idea for someone who is just starting out. Just try not to crash your drone into the bride.

5. Power Line Inspections

Inspecting power lines in person is very time consuming and expensive. It is also very unsafe for people to physically be on power lines. Powerful new drones equipped with zoom cameras and spectrometers can work with local governments to contract out drone power line inspections at a much lower cost than traditional methods. There is a massive opportunity for drone pilots willing to learn about how the utility industry works to make money with drones!

6. TV and Cell Tower Inspections

Much like power lines, traditionally manned inspections are risky and fraught with danger for the inspector. Drones can make these inspections cheaper and safer for everyone involved. The latest drones can provide high-resolution images that allow owners to see if there is damage from weather, old age, or even wildlife! Getting into the cell tower inspection game has a higher barrier to entry than some others, but could be one of the best margin drone business ideas on this list.

7. Solar Installation Inspections

Thermal cameras (like those from a well-known manufacturer, FLIR) can integrate with more and more consumer drones. New pilots can find excellent drone business ideas related to the inspection of solar arrays. By helping a company manage the productivity of these assets and identify problems, they can save a ton of time and money. By flying a thermal imaging drone, it can locate any damaged solar panels and use that intelligence to act before problems get too big.

8. Forestry

Drones can help those in the forestry industry both protect and monitor the health of forests while reducing costs to test commercial value of the forested property. Instead of walking through the woods in person, operators can fly drones over areas they wish to inspect and assess tree health from above. It could save both time and money while apprising the pilot of any issues like storm damage or illegal logging activity.

9. Wind Turbine Inspections

At the beginning of 2015, there were over 270,000 wind turbines in operation, with 800,000 blades in service. Drones can be used to inspect these turbine blades for damage caused by wear and tear, mechanical failure, weather events, or bird strikes. Inspection is valuable because fixing or replacing a rotor before failure is way less expensive and dangerous than a blade failure in the field. Sometimes you will even find more than you bargain for the pilot.

10. Oil and Gas Pipeline Monitoring

You know that a drone business idea is taking off when a big company like GE gets a hold. GE developed their drone to monitor gas leaks all over their service network. The drone allows them to respond faster, and to bring the right equipment for the level of the leak. It results in happier customers who are not losing as much money to the leak in the long run. Drone pilots and entrepreneurs would do well to link up with a larger company and find this type of inspection contract work.

11. Critical Infrastructure Inspection

Many state departments across the country grapple with limited budgets and aging infrastructure. Aerial inspection drones offer a solution for low-cost, accurate, high-resolution inspections. They can also typically be completed in less time than a traditional manned inspection while producing better results. By using quadcopters for bridge and infrastructure inspection, local municipalities can have a higher level of understanding about the actual health of assets and assess them at a reduced cost.

12. Roof Inspections

Roof inspections are one of the quickest entry points for people looking for drone business ideas. Almost everyone knows a friend or family member that has had their roof damaged in a storm or is looking at getting it replaced. Drone-based roof inspections are an excellent way to keep contractors honest and reduce quoted prices. They can also help validate insurance claims and make sure that both the insurer and homeowner are getting a fair assessment of any damage.

13. Drone Aerial Mapping and Surveying

Drone startups all over the country are developing great software to perform elevation, 3D, and orthomosaic maps. These maps can help clients scope out work to be done on a construction site, validate earthwork done by contractors, and ensure that properties are valued accurately and appropriately. Startups like DroneDeploy and Airware are making huge steps in the drone software industry and are gaining VC funding as well.

14. Insurance Claim Validation

Many insurance companies and homeowners want to make sure they are getting a fair assessment of any property damage. From validating fire damage to seeing if a roof needs to be replaced after a storm, aerial inspection can help substantiate claims. A new drone pilot could approach an insurance company to be a contracted third party who could perform on-site inspections on-call.

Author Bio

Oliver McClintock is a tech enthusiast, and his main interests are drones and everything related to aviation gadgets. He shares his experience, product reviews, buyer’s guides, and how-to content on his site called MyDearDrone. It is awarded as one of the top 10 drone blogs of 2018 and a proud supporter of various high-profile events related to tech, aviation, drones, government, security & defense, military, etc.

A passionate droner, Oliver works around the clock to contribute something great to the drone community. If you are a UAV fan, MyDearDrone will become your favourite, one-stop destination for all things drones.

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
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