Drone Pilot

A drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), is basically any aircraft flying in the sky without a pilot and can range in size from the size of a small aircraft to that of a dung beetle. The drone pilot or drone operator is the controller on the ground who communicates wirelessly with the drone enabling the drone to fly to over various sites or activities of interest.

The Drone Pilot or Drone Operator is skilled in operating a drone effectively and safely for a using drone cameras to capture footage from a unique, bird’s eye perspective. Commercial operators use this footage to produce videos or aerial photographs for promotion or analysis of sports activities, tourist events, surveys for construction or mining, farming, conservation, firefighting and scientific research.

In the energy industry for example, drones are being used to identify methane leaks in oil and gas production, and to monitor pipelines and wind and solar installations such as wind turbines. Thermal cameras detect heat from animals and can be used to monitor and track animals even at night without intruding on the ecosystem; LiDAR, can be used to calculate the distance to an object and its height, which is used for 3-D maps for surveying and other purposes. Drones to get in observe and measure places that are too dangerous or tricky for manned aerial vehicles to reach such as volcanoes or factory smoke stacks. Drones are sometimes fitted with instruments for gathering weather related data or to monitor pollution levels. 

Personal Requirements

A commercial drone pilot should be able to multitask both navigating the drone as well as activating camera and other equipment at the same time.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Recommended that you have completed a National Senior Certificate (Matric)

Complusory subjects: None
Recommended subjects: Business Studies 

Other: To operate as a commercial drone pilpot you will need to be 16 years old and own your own drone with the capacity to produce a professional-looking video that has sharp detail and bright, clean colour with good sound. This requires skills in the use of video and sound editing software.
Operator who sets themselves up as a business with their own insurance and equipment can both be hired at a higher rate and rent out their equipment to others.

What to Study

Drone pilot operator is usually self-taught although there are an increasing number of drone schools springing up. As this is a relatively new career the skills in marketing and selling yourself and your business are equally important. The ability to market your service build and maintain professional contacts and run your own business are as important as the skills required to operate and fly a drone.

In addition, study the legal licensing issues around selling photos or video material produced using a drone. Read up on legislation concerning taking of footage from public areas and sensitive government areas such as military bases or airports. There are rules in place about where one can operate a drone. This may apply to local areas (municipal bylaws) or national regulations relating to the taking of footage especially those relating to public and privately sensitive or restricted areas.

Programmes by Study Institutions

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