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How to Become a Drone Surveyor | A Comprehensive Guide

In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, the role of a drone surveyor is gaining unprecedented importance across various industries such as construction, environmental monitoring, and land surveying. This comprehensive guide aims to be your one-stop resource for embarking on a rewarding career in drone surveying. We will delve into the intricate details, from the foundational knowledge and skills you’ll need to acquire, to the legal regulations that govern this exciting field.

Table of Contents

What Is A Drone Surveyor?

A drone surveyor is a specialized professional who leverages the capabilities of drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and advanced sensors to capture aerial imagery and data. This role is not confined to a single industry; drone surveyors are making significant contributions to sectors like construction, agriculture, and environmental monitoring. They are the linchpin in projects that require precise mapping and data collection, offering a more efficient and cost-effective solution than traditional surveying methods.

What is Drone Surveying?

Drone surveying is the practice of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, to collect geospatial data. This method has revolutionized the field of surveying by offering a quicker, more efficient alternative to traditional land surveying techniques. Drone surveying can include various types of surveys such as topographic surveys, environmental surveys, and construction site surveys, among others.

Understanding the Role of a Drone Surveyor

The role of a drone surveyor goes beyond merely operating a drone. It encompasses a wide range of responsibilities, from intricate data processing to the creation of aerial maps using specialized software. Drone surveyors are tasked with capturing accurate data for different types of surveys, whether it’s mapping out large areas of land for a construction project or monitoring environmental changes in a given area.

The Essential Guide to Starting Your Career in Drone Surveying

How To Become A Drone Surveyor (Step By Step Instructions)

Embarking on a career as a drone surveyor involves a series of well-calculated steps. This section provides a detailed, step-by-step guide to help you navigate through the complexities of this dynamic field.

Acquiring the Required Skills and Knowledge

Before you can take to the skies, there’s a wealth of skills and knowledge you must acquire. This often involves undergoing professional training courses in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and photogrammetry. These courses will equip you with the essential skills to interpret and manipulate the data you collect, turning raw data into actionable insights.

Obtaining the Necessary Certifications and Licenses

In the United States, operating a drone for commercial purposes requires a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. Obtaining this certification is crucial for understanding the laws and regulations that govern drone operations, ensuring that you are compliant with FAA guidelines.

Selecting the Right Drone and Equipment

The choice of drone and accompanying equipment is a critical decision that can significantly impact the quality of your surveys. Whether you opt for quadcopters for their ease of use or fixed-wing drones for their extended flight times, each type of drone comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Your choice should align with the specific requirements of your projects.

Familiarizing Yourself with Surveying Techniques

To capture accurate data, a deep understanding of surveying techniques like Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) and photogrammetry is essential. These techniques allow you to create detailed and accurate digital elevation models (DEM) and other types of maps.

Learning to Operate Drones Safely and Efficiently

Safety should be your top priority when operating drones. This involves understanding the mechanics of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and the principles of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). Proper training in these areas ensures that you can operate drones in a manner that is both safe and efficient.

Mastering Data Processing and Analysis

The data you collect is only as good as your ability to interpret it. Mastery in data processing and analysis is crucial, and this involves becoming proficient in GIS software and understanding how to create and interpret digital elevation models (DEM).

Gaining Practical Experience through Projects and Internships

Theory and training are vital, but nothing beats hands-on experience. Seek out internships and volunteer for projects in areas like environmental monitoring or construction. This will not only give you practical experience but also help you build a strong portfolio that showcases your skills and expertise.

Networking and Building Professional Relationships

In any industry, networking is key to career advancement. Make it a point to connect with other drone pilots, licensed surveyors, and industry professionals. Attend industry events, webinars, and workshops to stay updated with the latest technologies and job opportunities.

Staying Updated with Technological Advancements

The drone technology landscape is ever-evolving. To stay relevant, you must keep abreast of the latest advancements in drone hardware and software. Subscribe to industry publications, follow influential figures in the field, and never stop learning.

Building a Strong Portfolio

A compelling portfolio is your ticket to attracting potential employers and clients. Ensure that your portfolio showcases a wide range of skills and projects, from aerial photography to complex mapping tasks.

Exploring Job Opportunities in Drone Surveying

The sky’s the limit when it comes to job opportunities in drone surveying. From specialized roles in geomatics to more general positions in aerial photography, the options are both vast and varied.

Entrepreneurial Opportunities as a Drone Surveyor

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, starting your own drone surveying business can be a lucrative venture. With the growing demand for drone surveys across various industries, there’s never been a better time to turn your skills into a thriving business.

Laws and Regulations for Drone Surveying

Understanding the legal landscape is a critical aspect of becoming a drone surveyor. The regulations surrounding drone operations are not just guidelines; they are laws that you must adhere to. In the United States, for instance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates that drone pilots must be at least 16 years old and in good physical condition. This is not merely a suggestion but a legal requirement. Being in good physical condition ensures that you can handle the rigors of piloting a drone, which can be surprisingly demanding. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in penalties, fines, or even legal action. Therefore, it’s not just about being able to fly a drone; it’s about understanding the laws that govern its operation.

Licensing for Drone Surveying

While obtaining a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate is a federal requirement, some states and local jurisdictions may have additional licensing requirements or restrictions. These could range from additional flight tests to specific permits for flying in certain areas. It’s crucial to research and understand these additional requirements as they can vary widely from one jurisdiction to another. Ignorance of local laws is not an excuse and could result in legal complications that could have been easily avoided.

Practical Guide to Drone Surveying Projects

Initiating a drone survey project is not as simple as taking your drone out and starting to fly. It involves a series of well-planned steps. First, you need to select the right equipment that suits the specific needs of your project. This includes choosing the right drone, high-resolution cameras, and any additional sensors like Lidar for data collection. Once your equipment is sorted, the next step is to obtain the necessary permits. Flying a drone in many areas requires permission from local authorities or property owners. Skipping this step can result in legal repercussions. Therefore, planning is key to a successful drone survey project.

Get Help With Your Drone Surveying Project

If you’re new to the field of drone surveying, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance. Whether it’s consulting with experienced drone pilots or hiring experts for specific tasks like data analysis, getting professional help can save you a significant amount of time and resources. It can also help you avoid common pitfalls and mistakes that could compromise the quality of your survey data. Remember, the drone surveying community is vast, and people often share their experiences and knowledge. Leverage this to your advantage.

Drone Surveyor Salary

The financial prospects in the field of drone surveying are quite promising. Salaries can vary widely based on several factors such as experience, geographical location, and area of expertise. For instance, drone surveyors specializing in complex fields like environmental monitoring may command higher salaries than those working in more general areas. Additionally, as you gain more experience and build a robust portfolio, your earning potential increases. It’s not uncommon for experienced drone surveyors to earn a six-figure income, especially if they have specialized skills that are in high demand.


Embarking on a career in drone surveying is an exciting journey filled with opportunities and challenges. The field is not just about flying drones but involves a multi-disciplinary approach that includes understanding laws, mastering various technologies, and continuous learning. With the right training, knowledge, and skills, you can make a significant impact across various industries, from construction to environmental conservation. So, the next time you find yourself pondering your career options, consider taking the first step towards becoming a drone surveyor. The sky is not the limit; it’s just the beginning.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Drone Surveyor

1. Is a drone surveyor a viable career option?

Absolutely, drone surveying has emerged as a viable and lucrative career option. With the increasing adoption of drone technology across various industries like construction, agriculture, and environmental monitoring, the demand for skilled drone surveyors is on the rise. The career offers not only good earning potential but also opportunities for specialization and entrepreneurship.

2. What are the benefits of using drones for surveying?

Drones offer several advantages over traditional surveying methods. They can cover large areas in a shorter amount of time, provide high-resolution data, and can access hard-to-reach places. Additionally, drones reduce the human risk factor involved in surveying hazardous areas. They also offer cost-effectiveness over the long term.

3. Do I need a pilot’s license to operate a drone for surveying?

In the United States, you need a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate to operate a drone for commercial purposes, including surveying. This is not a traditional pilot’s license, but it’s a certification that proves you understand the regulations and operational requirements for flying a drone.

4. Can I specialize in a particular industry as a drone surveyor?

Yes, you can specialize in various industries like construction, agriculture, environmental monitoring, or even archeology. Each industry has its own set of requirements and challenges, and specializing can make you a more sought-after professional in that niche.

5. How can I stay updated with the latest developments in drone surveying?

Staying updated is crucial in this rapidly evolving field. You can subscribe to industry journals, join drone surveying forums, attend webinars, and participate in workshops and conferences. Networking with professionals in the field can also provide you with valuable insights into the latest trends and technologies.

6. What skills do I need to become a drone surveyor?

Apart from drone piloting skills, you’ll need a strong understanding of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), photogrammetry, data analysis, and mapping software. Good communication skills are also essential for client interactions and team collaborations.

7. What kind of equipment do I need?

The equipment you’ll need depends on the type of surveying you’ll be doing. At a minimum, you’ll need a high-quality drone equipped with a high-resolution camera. Additional equipment can include Lidar sensors, thermal cameras, and various mapping software.

8. Is formal education required to become a drone surveyor?

While a formal education in a related field like geomatics or surveying can be beneficial, it’s not strictly necessary. Many successful drone surveyors have transitioned from other fields, supplementing their skills with specialized training and certifications.

9. How do I build a portfolio?

Building a portfolio involves accumulating a body of work that showcases your skills and expertise. This can be done through personal projects, internships, or freelance work. Make sure to document your projects thoroughly, including the challenges you faced and how you overcame them.

10. What is the average salary of a drone surveyor?

The salary can vary widely depending on experience, location, and specialization. However, it’s not uncommon for experienced drone surveyors to earn a six-figure income, especially those with specialized skills.

11. Are there any legal restrictions I should be aware of?

Yes, drone surveying is subject to various laws and regulations, including no-fly zones, altitude restrictions, and data privacy concerns. Always make sure you’re up-to-date with both federal and local laws.

12. Can I work internationally as a drone surveyor?

Yes, but you’ll need to be aware of and comply with the drone regulations of the country you’re operating in. Some countries may also require additional certifications.

13. How do I market myself as a drone surveyor?

Building a strong online presence through a professional website, social media, and networking can help you market your skills. Word-of-mouth and client referrals are also powerful marketing tools.

14. Is it better to work for a company or freelance?

Both have their pros and cons. Working for a company provides a stable income and access to high-end equipment but may offer less freedom. Freelancing offers more flexibility but comes with the challenges of running your own business.

15. What are the risks involved in drone surveying?

The risks primarily involve the potential for equipment failure or operator error, leading to crashes. There are also legal risks if you don’t comply with regulations. Proper training and equipment maintenance can mitigate these risks.

16. Can drone surveying be done in all weather conditions?

No, weather conditions like high winds, rain, and fog can affect the drone’s performance and the quality of data collected. Always check the weather forecast before planning a survey.

17. What software is commonly used in drone surveying?

Software like ArcGIS, QGIS, and various photogrammetry software suites are commonly used for data analysis and map creation in drone surveying.

18. How long does it take to complete a drone survey?

The time required can vary widely depending on the size and complexity of the area being surveyed. A small site may take just a few hours, while larger sites can take several days.

19. Can drones replace traditional surveying methods?

While drones offer many advantages, they can’t entirely replace traditional methods for all types of surveying. For example, drones may not be suitable for underground or indoor surveying.

20. Where can I find drone surveying jobs?

Job opportunities can be found on various job portals, freelance websites, and through networking. Industry-specific forums and social media groups are also good places to look for job opportunities.

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