The popularity and relative accessibility of drones have opened up a world of possibilities for aviation enthusiasts and videographers alike. Once you’ve mastered a graceful takeoff and landing, and can skillfully maneuver your drone through a series of drills, you’ll have all the basic abilities necessary to monetize your hobby.
New regulations may introduce unforeseen challenges to your fledgling business, but, if done carefully, you can make extra money on the side selling aerial video of weddings, real estate, and any other scene people want aerial footage of. Here are some of the expenses you’ll want to think through before starting your drone service business.
The steepest costs facing you, drone-trepreneur, are your legal fees. Drone businesses are still a relatively new occurrence, and the Federal Aviation Administration (or FAA) is still developing its processes for dealing with them.
If you want to go into business flying your drone around taking photos and video, or providing surveillance services, you’ll first need to go through an approval process to then apply for and obtain a Section 333 Exemption. The process can be arduous, so legal counsel is crucial. A legal team that specializes in drone law can help you fill out your application; collect, assemble, and submit all the necessary documents; and follow up with the FAA once it’s received your paperwork.
Five thousand dollars may seem steep for turning your hobby into a business. If you’re not ready to pay that much, there may be other ways to make money from your drone usage without needing a Section 333 Exemption. You can help people repair their drones, teach people about their drones, or monetize a YouTube channel featuring your non-commercial video.
Regardless of what drone-related business you decide to start, it’s important to make sure you’re on the right side of the law to avoid staggering fines*. Seek out expert legal counsel, and take your time to ensure that you’re doing this right.
Drones come in all different shapes, sizes, and prices. You can spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars all the way up to several tens of thousands of dollars.
One of the biggest cost factors is the camera that comes mounted to the aircraft. For professional-looking, studio-quality images, you’ll want to have a drone with a 4K camera. Having a 4K camera means that any video you shoot will have a horizontal resolution of around 4,000 pixels.
The drone you choose is one of the most important decisions in starting your drone business, so take your time making this purchase. Find a drone that is easy to fly and comes assembled to your comfort level. If you want to take it out of the box and get started right away, a ready-to-fly (or RTF) model may be best. Check out this article for an exhaustive run-through of the five major points to consider when purchasing a drone.
You’ll want to take precautions when traveling with an expensive piece of equipment like your drone. Many drones come in a box with a handle that works just fine temporarily, but you won’t want to rely on it for too long before ordering a more substantial carrying case to take your drone safely from shoot to shoot.
Assuming you’re planning on flying or driving with your drone, a simple case that cradles your drone and provides organization and support for your various equipment may be best. If you’re planning on hiking or doing more robust outdoor shoots with your drone, you’ll want a case that has a hard outer shell and more coverage.
SD cards and hard drives
Many RTF drones with cameras come with micro-USB cards with a couple GB of storage, but high-definition footage is going to take up lots of digital space. Be prepared to rotate in new cards and download footage onto a hard drive between shots. A single video shoot may fit onto a regular laptop hard drive, but if you’re going into business shooting multiple videos, you’ll need a dedicated storage space for footage.
Software and computer hardware
You can get by with free video editing software, but eventually you may feel the need for higher-end software and the improved editing capability it provides. Keep an eye out for “prosumer”-level options that combine the features of professional software with easy-to-use, consumer-friendly interfaces.
More powerful video editing software will require elevated performance from your computer. Max out the RAM and hard drive on your computer to speed up rendering and footage transfer times. When the deadlines start to stack up, you won’t want to have to take a 20-minute break every time you make a change to your video.
Drone liability insurance
While no one doubts your drone-steering skills, you’ll want to go into your new venture prepared for the day that you accidentally tank your drone. With drone liability insurance, not only are you protecting your hardware, you’re absolving yourself from any liability in the unfortunate case that you crash your drone into something of value or, worse, injure someone.
As a hobbyist, it’s relatively easy to get millions in protection by simply joining the Academy of Model Aeronautics (or AMA). As a business, however, you’d want to include liability insurance as a distinct policy. Searching around for “insurance for commercial drones” is a good place to start to find companies that will offer the type of coverage you need.
Note that as the regulations around drones continue to shift, insurance requirements might as well. Keep an eye on changing policies just to be sure.