The Promising Profession of Drone Operator

16 June 2021

The Promising Profession of Drone Operator
The drone market continues to grow - according to the creators of the AeroNet roadmap, by 2025 it may reach more than $200 billion globally and $35-40 billion in Russia. The authors of the forecast also believe that by that time at least 100,000 drones will be constantly flying over Russian territory, and the total number of devices in the country will reach 2.5 million.

As the popularity of the devices grows, so does the number of scenarios for their use. Commercial drones are actively used in industries such as agriculture, construction, municipal infrastructure, oil and gas, mining, and many others. In addition, there is a growing market for drone video and photography services.

In this regard, the profession of drone operator is growing in popularity. This is a specialist in the remote control of unmanned aerial vehicles, who is also responsible for their maintenance and task, such as site surveillance, area analysis or video recording. He or she is responsible for numerous tasks such as preparing authorization documents and flight missions, maintaining attachments, conducting pre-flight operations, carrying out direct operations and communicating with customers.

A high level of personal responsibility is an essential requirement for these professionals. Technical university education, logical thinking skills, accuracy, resistance to stress and physical strength are essential.

What kind of specialists the market is looking for

According to Kirill Shchukin, director of the Moscow Aviation Institute's Drone School, 70% of graduates are amateurs who learn UAVs for themselves, and 30% are specialists who plan to make money on them. Most often, these are people from the oil and gas industry, geodesy and transport security, and less often, gamekeepers or rescue workers.

Vasily Ptitsyn, CEO of Fly and See Agro, claims that 80% of the drone market is agriculture: "This season many agricultural enterprises are buying spray drones, someone needs to work on them. Also, drone pilots are in demand for monitoring linear objects - oil and gas pipelines, power lines.

Experts agree that the popularity of drones, as well as the range of applications, will grow - so will the need for professional operators.

"We cannot speak directly about the market demand, as no relevant research has been conducted in Russia so far. However, we can guess the size of the market indirectly based on US statistics.

For example, in December 2020, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported 689,000 registered drone pilots. If we assume that the Russian market is about 6-8% of the US market, then the potential demand of the Russian market for the UAV operator profession is in the range of 41,000 to 55,000 specialists. And it is safe to say that these figures are constantly growing along with the emergence of new applications for UAVs," says Anton Larsen, Director of Industrial Solutions at Skymec.

In addition to operators themselves, the market needs specialists in related industries: "There is not only the person who controls the vehicle in the air, but also several related branches. For example, a UAV technician, a payload operator, and so on. The industry itself is still very young and requires a lot of research in terms of application possibilities," adds Kirill Shchukin.

How much do UAV operators earn?

According to Skymec, the cost of training to operate a UAV starts at 15,000 rubles and lasts from four to 76 hours. Individual terms are set for workers in the transport, agricultural, industrial, construction, geodesy, mapping, and civil security sectors.

According to HeadHunter, the average salary of a UAV operator is 50,000 rubles and reaches 100,000 rubles, depending on the specifics and complexity of the services provided.

"A salary of 100-150 thousand roubles is quite a normal story for professionals, and top-segment operators, who can ensure the flight of complex equipment, can earn much more," Kirill Shchukin describes the potential income of drone operators.

Vasily Ptitsyn believes there is no shortage of such specialists today. "I once advertised that the company was recruiting drone pilots. In three days, 123 people responded. Now we have 12 professionals on staff, their salary, subject to sufficient workload, is 150,000 roubles," he points out.

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