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The drone industry is in a unique time period.
We’re past early adoption, but not so far along that the big players (on all sides of the industry) have a solid foothold.
So if you’re on the fence about starting your drone services business, now is the time to take the leap.
As you probably know, on August 29, 2016 the Federal Aviation Administration released Part 107, their new set of rules and regulations for commercial drone flight.
Up until this point, a pilot could apply for a 333 exemption. Under this exemption, one could legally earn money for their drone services, but the rules were really “guidelines” and no knowledge test was required.
Despite over 5,000 exemptions being granted, many pilots either decided that the cost/hassle of the 333 exemption process wasn’t worth it, or they saw something much more concrete (i.e. Part 107) coming up in the near future, so they decided to wait.
On the client side, a remote pilot airman certificate obtained under Part 107 carries a lot more credibility than a 333 exemption. It states that you have extensive knowledge about small UAS and aeronautical operations.
Potential clients who were hesitant about the 333 exemption are now are much more convinced of a pilot’s ability if they have an official remote pilot airman certificate. And they are actively seeking out these pilots.
Part 107 has provided a layer of trust in the aerial services market that will spark a sharp rise in both commercial drone sales and services rendered across the country.
As an aspiring professional pilot, there is no better time to enter the market than in the midst of this rise.
Here is study material for the Part 107 aeronautical knowledge test: http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/handbooks_manuals/aviation/media/remote_pilot_study_guide.pdf
And here is a list of FAA-approved test centers: https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/media/test_centers.pdf
It takes time to study for the Part 107 knowledge exam, and it takes time to schedule and hopefully pass the test.
This means that, despite the exam being out for almost 6 weeks at the time of this writing, there is still going to be a delay before the market gets flooded with certified pilots.
Once the market gets saturated and even more potential clients are aware of how they can use drone services, true supply and demand principles will take place.
Pilots who got in early and established a client base will benefit from word of mouth and rising reputation in the space. Pilots just entering the industry will have to get more creative about how they stand out in a crowded market as time goes on.
The sooner you start your business, the more likely you will end up as one of the early birds.
Pilots who entered the market during the 333 exemption period had to be the innovators.
They had to figure out how to find clients, keep clients, price and package their services, which equipment to use, and so on.
Now, many of those pilots have shared that information in forums and other communities online. The information isn’t perfect, but there is enough out there to drastically lower the learning curve for new commercial drone pilots.
And you can find enough information on building/managing your business in general and for building your skill set. This makes the barriers to entry a lot lower than they were even a few months ago.
Here are a few of my favorite resources:
How to Fly a Quadcopter – The Ultimate Guide — An excellent article on learning how to fly a drone.
Marketing Your Drone Business: How to Find New Customers — Skyward breaks down a 6-step process to find drone clients.
CineChopper University — An online course on starting an aerial photography/videography business and building your skills.
QuickBooks — One of the best pieces of accounting software I’ve used.
Youtube — If there’s anything you want to learn about taking aerial shots, your equipment, etc, search for it on Youtube and you will probably find an answer.
Finally, drone services are in high demand.
The FAA predicts that the top five sUAS markets will be:
All of these markets have a strong incentive to utilize drones to lower costs, work more efficiently, take humans out of harm’s way, and more.
And as more studies emerge confirming these benefits and word of mouth spreads, demand for skilled drone pilots will increase even further.
The FAA also predicts that commercial drone sales will go from .6 million units in 2016 to 2.7 million in 2020, and it states that “the overall demand for commercial UAS will soar once regulations more easily enable beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations and operations of multiple UA by a single pilot” (PDF).
In the same report, the FAA states that when they come out with regulations that allow for BVLOS operations, the real market sizes could end up being higher than the forecast.
This means that you are entering a market that is already aware of your services, but, at the same time, isn’t saturated with service providers just yet.
There is a huge arbitrage opportunity in the drone aerial services market right now.
The combination of official regulations/certification, an unsaturated market, information to lower the learning curve, and in-demand services makes this a wonderful landscape for new professional pilots to enter and navigate.
What’s holding you back from starting your business or growing it further? Let me know in the comments below.