This article first appeared on UAV Coach.
In this article we’re going to take a look at some of the data collected in the new report from Skylogic Research on the drone industry—data we think is important to you and answers the question: “Where are drone-based service providers making money?”
The report defines Service Providers as those individuals or companies that offer drone-based imaging or sensing services for outside hire (as opposed to Business Owners, who “use or purchase drone-based imaging or sensing services”).
Let’s dive in.
Skylogic’s report found that the top three primary service areas for commercial drone work are: Aerial Photography / Videography; Surveying / Mapping / GIS; and Real Estate.
However, as indicated in the pie chart below, the first area (i.e., Aerial Photography / Videography) takes up the lion’s share not just of those three, but of the entire services scene, with 41% of the entire chart, while the following category (Surveying / Mapping / GIS) only receives 13%.
A note on the data: Respondents were asked to indicate the primary and secondary commercial product or services they offer. They could pick one primary and up to three secondary services. Skylogic intentionally had them choose a primary because previous research revealed that many service providers boast about their ability to service multiple industries, but have no domain expertise in those industries.
But just because the majority of commercial drone operators are working in aerial cinematography doesn’t mean they’re actually making money in that sector.
The report goes on to rank the top 10 drone services making over $100K/year. Surprisingly, it’s Surveying / Mapping / GIS that ranks first in that list. Aerial Photography and/or Video is #2. (Of course, just because you’re not making over $100K/year doesn’t mean you’re not making any money.)
After those first two, the third area listed where people are making over $100K/year is Utilities Infrastructure Inspection or Monitoring—even though this is the seventh item listed in the pie chart above, with only 3% of respondents indicating that they work in that field.
It seems one conclusion we can draw from these data points is that those commercial drone pilots who find a commercial niche (a place where there aren’t many people operating, but there is a demand for the work) are likely to make the most money.
Taking a simplistic view, a commercial operator could potentially look at those areas of minimal saturation on the pie chart—the ones lower down the list—and then look at those areas where people are making over $100K/year, and see what might be required to get into that sector.
Of course, transitioning into commercial mapping or inspections isn’t as easy as just knowing how to fly a drone. But we can foresee a future where solopreneurs team up with other professionals with specific skill sets—for example, a licensed surveyor—to provide high-end services to large industrial operations.
Another chart we want to share from Skylogic’s report shows the commercial areas where business owners are outsourcing services.
If you’re a solopreneur looking to find a skill set that will help you find work, this graphic could be a great jumping off place for finding skill sets you might want to develop.
The bottom line is that there is money to be made as a service provider in the drone industry, but the most popular field (i.e., aerial cinematography) is not the most lucrative, and the areas where you’re most likely to find a solid financial foothold will require additional skill sets beyond knowing how to fly and how to operate a camera.
It will be interesting to see the data in another year or two. Things are developing rapidly, with students beginning to study drones and STEM in high school and the landscape appearing to shift radically to focus more on industrial applications. We may soon see mapping, surveying, and similar commercial use cases rise to the top of the services areas for drone service providers, and we might also see a resulting shift in the market from cheap drones to high-end drones developed for niche applications.
Don’t have a copy of the report? Purchase a full copy of the report here.