How to hire a professional drone pilot

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The drone industry is fairly new, and there are so many new pieces to go along with it. New technology, new regulation, new licenses. It can be hard to keep up with it all. It can be hard to tell who is a professional drone pilot, and who doesn’t know what they’re doing when you first start looking for drone services. 

Being in the drone industry for a few years now, I’ve seen differences in professional drone pilots, and amateur drone pilots. Some things are simple, like having a pt. 107 drone license, and some things are more difficult to spot. Here are four areas anyone should know about a drone pilot before hiring them: licensure, experience, procedures, and equipment


Licensure means: ‘the granting or regulation of licenses, as for professionals’. Every drone pilot who wants to use drones for commercial purposes; to get paid, or to get value from drones, legally needs the part 107 drone license. Back in 2016, the FAA came out with part 107, a new chapter in the FAR/AIM (Federal Aviation Regulations/Aeronautical Information Manual), that laid out the path for commercial drone pilots, what they need to know, and how they can get licensed. It’s not a difficult license to get, nor does it make you a professional drone pilot, but you do need it. 

This license test tries to ensure that all drone pilots know a certain number of skills. This includes regulations, airspace, aerodynamics, and weather. 

Before you hire a drone pilot, you should ask for their 107 certificate number. With that number, you can look them up to make sure the license is current, or if they have any violations on their record. 


Then you should ask them about the airspace surrounding the prospective flight location, and if they need any specific authorizations for the flight. If it’s close to an airport, the pilot will be required to get a special authorization for the day of flight. Some authorizations can be immediately given on site, and some require 1-2 week’s notice to get approval. If this is not attained, the pilot may be breaking regulations, and the drone may not even allow the pilot to take off.


You should know how many hours your pilot has flown. The airlines require 1500 hours to be an airline transport pilot. With more hours comes more experience. You also want to know what that time was spent on. Were those hours commercial flights, or just hobby flights? What type of flying was completed? If you need video footage, make sure the pilot has shot b-roll drone footage before. You can ask for a portfolio to see previous work completed. That way, you will know what to expect.


You will want to ask about the type of drone the pilot will be using to capture the footage for you. There is a large range of drones anyone can use, from $100-$100,000. To be the best drone pilot, you don’t necessarily need to have the most expensive drone, but you do need to know the drone’s limitations, what it can produce, and what it can’t. One of the most versatile drones is the DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Most jobs call for a drone comparable to the Phantom. But there are still limitations. If you need a thermal camera, or you need to measure crop health, you need a bigger drone with a better camera. 


As a pilot, there are many procedures and policies I use every time I plan out a flight. When I was in flight school, the word checklist was drilled into my head. Checklist, checklist, checklist. Everything was memorized, and we had the checklists for every procedure imaginable. From normal takeoff and landing to losing engine power, it was all written down. Now that I’m flying drones, the checklists are still there, they’re just smaller.

Professional pilots use procedures, because procedures get results. This also includes shot lists! A shot list is like an instruction guide, and you need one. This ensures that the drone pilot gets all the footage that has been requested by the client. Sometimes a client will have a shot list, and sometimes they won’t. We have standard shot lists for every type of job: photo, video, commercial, residential, b-roll etc. This way, we can assure clients that every job has everything required to get a great final product. 


Make sure to do you research before hiring a drone pilot. We want to make sure you get the best results possible! And so many times, people tell me about how unprofessional their previous experience was with a different drone pilot. This isn’t rocket science, but it does involve science. Ask the right questions, and always consult with a professional before mistakes are made. 

And keep in mind, you get what you pay for. If you want the lowest possible price, then expect low quality, unprofessional pilots, poor planning, and bad customer service. Or you can use JCL Aerial Services to get the best quality, professionalism, and great customer service. Call someone you trust, talk to the experts!