Thinking of Starting a Drone Business? Here's Some Great Drone Business Ideas!

Posted by Greg Davis on

Types of Drone Businesses

As the drone industry continues to grow in Canada and all over North America, many savvy business leaders are looking at opportunities to build up their own drone business. According to GPS World, the biggest industries for drone development include aerial surveying and mapping (37%), aerial surveillance (13%) and security, aerial inspections (25%) and aerial delivery (25%). However, those aren’t the only options for those considering starting a drone business.

Drone-skills are becoming valuable in many industries and parts of Canada. This has led Transport Canada to develop regulations around the operation of the aircraft. These new rules will come into effect on June 1, 2019. The regulations demonstrate maturity of the drone field, particular by creating a division between basic and advanced drone operations.

Some industries only require you to have basic drone capabilities. However, if you are serious about working in the drone industry, you will want to develop the skills and experience required for advanced drone operations. The difference between these two areas, as defined by Transport Canada, deal with the level of flight permission you have.

Regardless, depending on what type of drone company you are looking to create, there are some basic things you will need to do to get started.

Steps to Starting a Drone Business

  1. Get a drone pilot license through Transport Canada – the government has two levels of drone pilot certification. One is the basic certification, which allows pilots to operate the craft in uncontrolled airspace at more than 30 metres away from bystanders and never over bystanders. Most businesses will require an advanced pilot certification. Training is offered through The Canadian Drone Institute. 
  2. Take drone pilot flight courses to master flying a drone – the more you know about drones, including software and components that make up the craft, the better equipped you will be as a drone business operator. There are several schools and companies that offer drone pilot training to help you become a master of the flight.

  3. Build a simple website – developing a website to help draw customers into your new business is a simple process. There are several platforms that offer basic and beautiful templates you can use to advertise your services.

  4. Figure out what rates to charge – do some research about the type of drone business you plan to start. Look into what other companies charge for the same service. If you are unable to find this information out through the internet or some phone calls, you can always contact your local drone association for some advice.

  5. Get found on Google & Facebook with ads and organic SEO – social media marketing has become a powerful tool for those looking to start up their own businesses. Google local business is also a useful tool to let clients in your area know where you are and what you can do for them. Creating a Facebook ad is also a simple matter of filling in the information on the social media platform and deciding how much you are willing to pay for the advertising.

  6. Hire & expand – as you become more and more known in the business you can start hiring skilled staff and expanding your company. This is one of the most rewarding opportunities for business owners.


Tips to Being a Successful Drone Business

Having flight training, business know-how and marketing acumen are good skills to have if you are looking at starting your own drone business. However, there are some other tools you will need to be successful. These include:

  1. Join the association – Unmanned Systems Canada is the nation-wide association for everything drone. This includes pilots, companies and potential clients. It is a networking opportunity that will help you stand out.
  2. Get insured – despite the common belief that regular insurance will cover your drone business operations, you will need to invest in specific UAV insurance. Search out providers who handle these types of policies so you can be sure you and your business are protected.


New Drone Regulations in Canada

As of June 1, 2019, Transport Canada has put new rules into effect regarding drone operation. Because they are considered an aerial vehicle, drone pilots need to know and follow the Canadian Aviation Regulations, particularly Part IX. Furthermore, as part of these new rules, only certified drone pilots may fly a device.

Pilots who operate drones must have substantial knowledge of various areas including air law, air traffic rules and procedures, RPAS airframes, power plants, meteorology, navigation, flight operations, theory of flight, radiotelephony and more. In addition, they must have a pilot certificate issued by Transport Canada. There are two main types of certificates, basicand advanced.

The drone must also be registered for it to be a legal flight. Any drones that weigh up to 250 grams or 25 kilograms and will be used in Canadian airspace need to be registered. Aircraft under those weight guidelines do not need to be registered. Drones that are over the weight specifications will need to obtain a special flight operations certificate. The registration number of the drone must be marked on the device before it can be legally used. Those who fail to register their drones could be fined $1,000 for individuals and $5,000 for corporations. Registration takes just minutes and costs about $5 per drone.

Drone pilots are advised to follow safety procedures during flight. These include keeping the drone within eyesight, below 122 metres and usually 30 metres away from bystanders if it is a basic license. Drones are not permitted over or around emergency operations, advertised events, forest fires, outdoor concerts or parades, airports and heliports as well as other aircraft.

Pilots are responsible for all elements of a flight. This includes planning the flight, be aware of any obstacles such as power lines or anything that could get in the way of the drone flight. Operators are also responsible for ensuring the weather does not put the flight at risk, that the drone is in working order (batteries charged, no serious damage to the craft, etc.)

Other laws that drone operators are expected to obey include sections of the Criminal Code that deal with offences against air or maritime safety, breaking and entering and mischief; trespass acts put in place by the provinces; as well as any laws related to voyeurism or privacy. While Transport Canada is in control of investigating unsafe flying complaints, alternative law enforcement agencies can be called in if there are other laws that are allegedly broken.


Types of Drone Business

There are thousands of drone-related businesses that you could start with some minor training, experience and preparation. While the industry is still in the early stages that is expected to change in the coming years. If you have a passion and skill with drones, here are some ways you can turn that into a successful business:

  1. Unmanned aerial vehicle flight co-ordinator(commercial drone pilot)
    Description: Starting up a drone pilot business is one of the more obvious options when considering drone jobs. Basically, the pilot is the individual that is in charge of the flight planning and operations. While they may personally fly the drone themselves, more advanced pilots can supervisor other, less experienced pilots. As a drone pilot business, you can offer to operate the aircrafts for other companies in a variety of industries including land surveying, real estate, film production, construction, military and more. The only training required would be a drone pilot certification, which can be obtained through Transport Canada. As well, there are several drone pilot courses offered across Canada for under $1,000. They often just take a couple of days to complete. The risk of running this type of business is automation. Drones are capable of being flown by a computer, which would make the drone pilot position irrelevant. In addition, many organizations have preferred to train employees to operate drones rather than contract the work out.
    Average salary: A drone pilot salary can vary depending on the industry and scale of the project. PayScale has estimatedthe average salary is around $25/hr.
  2. Drone Delivery
    DescriptionDrones are proving useful tools to speed up the delivery of goods, supplies and even medical supplies. It is also a sector that is expected to grow. Many companies that need to get their products to customers have been considering drone delivery because of its speed. However, it is not just for commercial enterprises, but drone delivery can also help deliver medical or emergency supplies to hard-to-reach places of the globe. One drawback is the weight of the load that a drone can safely carry. Unfortunately, it is best for delivering lighter, small items. To be a successful drone delivery service in Canada you’ll need to have all your certification and registration in order. That includes your pilot license, drone registration and permit from Transport Canada.
    Average salary
    Drone delivery jobs usually line up closely with a general drone pilot, however, while a drone pilot could work in a variety of industries, drone delivery businesses tend to focus on commercial or humanitarian aid work. Therefore, there is a lack of data on how much a drone delivery company could see in revenues each year. Yet, most drone pilots earnbetween $50,000 and $70,000 a year.
  3. Drone Software Developer
    DescriptionDrones are being used across a variety of industries. Agriculture, surveyors, photographers, builders, governments and military are just some of the areas that have been using drones in their operations. Companies in these areas are in need of well-developed software that can sort through and organize the information that drones gather. Programmers that can create software that tracks, stores, shares or analyzes the information will be in high demand.  In order to start up a drone software developing company, you will need a solid grasp of computer languages. Programming languages that are important to understand are MATLAB, Python, Django, JavaScript, Node.js and React. This means a degree in computer science is essential. You may also want to consider taking university-level classes in drone operation, piloting or engineering. Any programming or software development experience that you can gain on top of formal training will prepare you to run a successful drone software development company. It will also be an advantage to have some knowledge or experience in the industry that you will be designing software for, which means you will need to stay up-to-date with changes in that area.
    Average salaryPayScale reportsthat the average software developer in Canada earns around $64,000 a year. However, because drone software development is more specialized and demands more technical skills, it is likely developers for drone-related software will earn more than the general average.

  4. Agriculture Surveillance
    DescriptionFarming is a big drone-reliant industry. Agriculture producers of all sizes, big and small, have been using zones to monitor crops, soil conditions and more. Most use contractors to do the work. It could be a lucrative business given that most farmers use drone services daily or at least once a week. Drones are seen as an affordable and reliable tool for crop surveillance, which is why they have become so popular in this industry. In fact, researchhas estimated the agricultural drone market will grow more than 18 percent over the next few years. If you are planning on developing a business for agriculture surveillance, you will need to be sure that your drone crafts are properly equipped with the technology that allows it to capture specific wavelengths. This will enable operators to assess the health of crops over the field. In the agriculture industry drones can be useful in diagnosis problems for farmers and occasionally being used to deliver treatment to crops.  A background in the agriculture industry is useful for business owners looking to start a drone agriculture surveillance company. It is also important that you are equipped with the skills, tools and expertise to interpret the data that the drone collects. This requires you to be familiar with software that is specific to the agriculture industry.  
    Average salary
    As more and more farmers begin to adopt drone technology for their agriculture processes and practices the opportunities for business development remains good. While there is no set data on the earnings that these companies can make, it is clear that it is a reliable source of income. Most farmers use drone operators at least once a week to survey their crops, which means the revenue will be fairly steady. Statisticson agricultural salaries in Canada estimate the average to be $66,000 per year with more experienced workers earning up to $112,965.
  5. Drone hardware manufacturer
    DescriptionThe drone industry is nothing without aircrafts. So, there is a big future in designing and building drones. One of the best things about manufacturing drones is the ability to design a superior model that stands out in the industry. You can also focus on developing models that are suitable for different tasks, such as a camera drone or one ideal for commercial deliveries. To become a drone manufacturer you will need to be very knowledgeable about business and the drone industry. You will also need access to a significant amount of capital as you will need to have a facility for manufacturing. You will also need to find skilled staff that can help you put the aircraft together. This includes assemblers, cutters, welders, machinists, tool and die makers, supervisors, production managers and quality control inspectors. There is likely to be a lot of work in the drone manufacturing area. As the technology advances and new industries demand specialized features on the aircraft more and more companies will be needed to create all unique models of drones to fulfill consumer expectations.  Along with computer and technical knowledge, a basic understanding of production and machine building is important. An individual can gain on-the-job training as an apprentice drone manufacturing worker until they have mastered the skills they need.
    Average salaryAccording to Vault Research Companies, the average salary for a Drone Manufacturing Worker is between $25,000 and $100,000. 

  6. Drone Sales
    DescriptionWhether you want to own your own brick and motor shop or would rather focus on e-commerce, selling drones is another possible business avenue to consider. If you already have experience in the retail or customer service industry, it should be a simple process to start selling drones. Begin by building an inventory. Search for drones at a good price and add them to the product line you sell. If you are looking at e-commerce options, you can consider starting an account with Amazon or E-bay and building up a customer base. Don’t forget to also deal with drone supplies that can complement the equipment you sell. If you have a friendly, customer-orientated personality and a high level of interest and understanding regarding drones this may be the right type of business for you. Keep in mind that drones are fairly new technology and customers may need you to also be their tech support person as well as a salesperson. When it comes to the drone retail industry, you will also need to be diligent with your paperwork and stay up-to-date on changes in the industry and manufacturing. The good news is there is no formal education required, though some training in marketing, sales or business will definitely give you the edge. Research has also shown that drone sales are expected to rise over the next few years. The industry is expectedto reach 15 million units shipped by 2024, bringing revenues to over $9 billion USD.
    Average salaryMost retail sales workers earnan average of about $30,000 a year in Canada. Those on the high end of the scale bring in closer to $50,000 a year.

  7. Drone Trainer/Educator
    DescriptionPostsecondary institutions, smaller colleges and community learning centres have all be developing drone training courses for would-be pilots as well as hobbyists. Starting a drone training company means you will need to be a master of drones. Unless you plan to teach at the university level, you won’t be required to have any formal degrees. Keep in mind that you may be required to test your students either through hands-on projects or through written work. For most drone classes, being an expert in flight, drone systems and manufacturing is enough. However, because the industry is growing and changing fast it is key that you stay on top of change. This may mean you need to adjust your approach when you are training others. This is a great option for those who are well-spoken, have great leadership and public speaking skills and enjoy teaching others. As well, teaching drone courses can also be a great side hustle that can bring in some excellent money to help support your bigger drone dream. The drone education component of the industry is expected to grow as more and more people become interested in the aircraft.
    Average salaryOne website estimatesthat UAV trainers can earn between $74,000 and $93,000. Those who are more formally trained and teach at a higher education institution can earn more: $101,814 for assistant professors; $103,936 for professors

  8. Survey/mapping business
    DescriptionAerial surveying has become a big area of growth for drone operators. To get started in this arena, you’ll need to have some background in how land surveying and mapping processes work. Technical experience and an understanding of how mapping software works is also essential for a job in surveying or mapping. As well, a bachelor’s degree in a discipline such as geology or a closely-related subject is expected. This kind of work is very specialized and complex. Thus, a surveyor is expected to have GIS and mapping knowledge as well as other basic experience such as organizational or management skills. The good news is there is a vast amount of opportunity in this area. Aerial surveys are required by companies from different fields including archaeology, GIS applications, topography and more. Several organizations prefer to use drones for work that might be too dangerous for a person. One key to building up a drone surveying business is to provide quality photographs.
    Average salary
    Earnings in this area can vary from project to project, depending on the budget and needs of your client. However, most aerial surveyors earnbetween $36,000 to $79,000 annually.  

  9. Photographer/videographer
    Drones have given us the most amazing aerial footage and so being a videographer or drone photographer is another viable business to consider. However, it is important to note that those clients looking for drone footage have high standards. This means you will need to be skilled and have some demonstrated talent in capturing spectacular footage to stand out. This means that you should have some previous photography or videography experience. You will need to understand industry terms and requirements including lighting needs, different angles and framing as well as some video or photo editing skill. However, rather than take a university degree, those interested in this profession can gain on-the-job training as an intern or employee for another company before they venture out on their own. Yet, there are a variety of training programs around the country that cover all the aspects of photography or videography within a few months. The majority of businesses that offer drone photographer or videography are already established as professionals. They simply add drone capability to their services. There is a lot of opportunity in this area as a variety of companies will contract aerial services out including film production, real estate, insurance companies and more.
    Average salaryThe best part of earning an income as a drone photographer or videographer is that you set your own price. HiFly Photography notesthat you can charge anywhere between $200 and $5,000 per session. The defining factors will be the skill you provide and the client you are working for.

  10. Drone news publication
    DescriptionThere are already several online publications dedicated to publishing the latest news for the drone industry. If you are looking at starting up a drone news publication you should consider what aspect of the industry you want to focus on: breaking news, production and manufacturing, commercial aspects, etc. One of the best parts of covering the drone industry is that you can employ drones as reporters to gather footage and images to use on your site.
    Average salary
    When it comes to running your own news publication, you will be treading new ground. There is no set revenue base for this type of income. However, the average salary for a journalistis $41,000 a year, which is a starting point.
    Job growth
    As the drone industry continues to grow, there will be a demand for some well-researched news specific to the industry. Some forms of revenue for a drone news publication can include audience subscription and advertising revenue. You may also want to consider sponsorships from some major drone industry players. However, if you do take money from these companies, you will have to be transparent with your audience.
    Experience necessar
    yJournalism or a writing and researching background is required to run a reliable online publication. You should have some knowledge about the publishing industry. Knowledge of marketing and advertising will also be useful. If you are considering developing a magazine or paper copy of your publication it can also help to know something about the printing industry. If you are using a drone in your reporting or researching component you will need to have your drone pilot certification, which you can get through Transport Canada.

Sources Cited

Murfin, Tony UAV Report: Growth trends & opportunities for 2019 GPS World accessed on March 17, 2019

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