The drone industry is struggling to hire drone pilots. That’s in some ways bad for the short-term growth of the drone industry — but it’s great news if you’re a qualified drone pilot. Your services are in high demand.
The 2021 Drone Market Sector Report, which was released earlier in September, has tons of statistics and insights, but one of the standouts is a fascinating tidbit about the challenges to train and hire drone pilots. The report — which was generated via both an online survey plus qualitative interviews based on a combined 1,800 respondents, representing 39 industries across 110 countries — asked drone service providers about their biggest challenges.
And while certainly not their biggest challenge, here’s their combined biggest in terms of year-over-year growth: “difficulty finding pilots.”
“While regulatory challenges remain in the top 5 list for both sides of the market, we have seen a proportional rise in issues related to sourcing qualified pilots,” according to the 2021 Drone Market Sector Report.
The struggle to hire drone pilots comes in as a stark difference from years past, where the top concerns were issues like access to waivers or airspace — and pilot availability was hardly a concern.
On a related note, drone service providers are having a tough time training the pilots they do have. “Sourcing training” saw significant year-over-year growth from past reports. That’s good news if you passed your Part 107 test and hold a Remote Pilot Certificate (effectively a drone pilot’s license).
Though even many experts say simply having a Part 107 drone pilot’s license is not enough for them to hire drone pilots. Many say that the way to get hired for jobs is to have an additional specialized skillset beyond drones (like drone mapping, structure inspections and roof inspections). The pilots making six-figure incomes by flying drones are the ones who have a specialized skillset).
That said, difficulty finding pilots is not the top concern overall. The top 3 concerns for drone service providers in 2021, according to the report, were:
- Limited working capital
- Regulations on Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations
- Illegal operators
Unsurprisingly, BVLOS operations were another big challenge. Even FAA Administrator Steve Dickson himself has called them out as being a challenge.
“They’re not up to the task,” Dickson said in a keynote speech at the AUVSI 2021 conference in reference to current BVLOS rules. “For one thing, approving operations on a case-by-case basis is not a feasible or efficient way forward. It’s not feasible or efficient for the agency. It’s not efficient for manufacturers. And it doesn’t give us the kind of certainty that we really need to scale operations around the national airspace.”
Though luckily that should change soon. Earlier this summer, the FAA created a BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to help the FAA develop a regulatory path for routine BVLOS flights, with representatives including employees from from AirMap, ANRA, Iris Automation, Amazon Prime Air and Wing. The BVLOS committee is expected to make recommendations later in 2021.
The report asked a similar question to people who identified themselves as representatives from drone programs. Overwhelmingly their biggest challenge in terms of year-over-year growth was “sourcing qualified pilots.”
Similarly, though “sourcing qualified pilots” is not the top concern overall. The top 3 concerns for drone programs in 2021, according to the report, were:
- Law and Regulation knowledge
- Quick airspace access
- Proving ROI
It’s also interesting to see how high “Quick airspace access” ranked, given how much emphasis has been placed on LAANC this year. LAANC, which stands for Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, is a system for drone pilots to gain access to fly in controlled airspace through an automated approval process.
Check out the entire DroneAnalyst 2021 Drone Market Sector Report here.