Why Are So Many Commercial Operators Leaving the Drone Industry?

Drone technology has advanced at an incredible pace in recent years. Aircraft functionality, safety features, camera quality and sheer power to capture and process aerial data is mind-blowing. The recently launched Mavic 3 is evidence of this, making pro-quality an affordable option for anyone serious about making money as a drone operator.

It’s been a slow start in the UK but industries and the public are recognising the benefits of practical applications of aerial technology. Insurance companies, surveyors, energy companies and others are looking for regular suppliers.

So we have to ask the question, why are so many people leaving the drone industry?

What Does it Really Take to Be a Successful Drone Pilot?

It must be said that some people entering the business don’t appreciate the full range of skills required. Transitioning from a 9-5 job or a more conventional industry is a challenge for anyone. As well as the actual aircraft operation a drone business generally involves photographic and video production skills, editing and post-production and potentially knowledge of surveying, construction and other specialist areas. Social media marketing, website and SEO and sales skills are also required unless you can pay others for these services. 

Specialising in one particular market - such as aerial inspections - and getting really good at it is a proven route to profits. But whatever the approach it takes time to build up the necessary network of contacts and reputation required to become a successful commercial drone operator.

Confusion in The Sky - And on The Ground!

Public perception of drones was severely damaged by the Gatwick incident in 2018 - as yet still really unexplained. Every day the Drone Safe Register team are asked similar questions by the general public -

“Am I allowed to shoot down a drone flying over my land?”

“I think a drone is being used to spy on me in the hot tub - what can I do?”

“How can I report a dangerous drone pilot?”

Changes in drone legislation have inevitably played a role in stalling the drone industry, perhaps for unexpected reasons. The introduction of the A2 Certificate of Competency in theory allowed more operators to come on board, but the self-declaration element of the permission brings in some ambiguity. Common examples of confusion within the drone community include the following examples of questions we are asked regularly -

"I've paid my £9 I can now fly any type of drone anywhere I need to can't I?"

"Now I've got my £9 drone licence can I launch my drone business?"

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) need data on drone operations to assess risks and determine future policy, but by effectively wiping out commercial pilots this is no longer available. Tragically, many of the most experienced drone professionals are now leaving the industry due to a lack of support from the authorities.

Do The Police Understand The Rules?

As the representative of the UK’s largest network of commercial drone operators, we are constantly frustrated by the lack of action against illegal commercial pilots. It’s apparent that the Department for Transport has not been working with the Home Office to increase police awareness of drone use. If the police don’t understand the rules, what hope does the general public have?

The Impact on Safe, Qualified Commercial Pilots

An estate agent can now pick up a Mini 2 and £9 Operator ID and start carrying out their own aerial photography rather than paying for a professional, safe operator as they used to. Considering the investment a commercial drone pilot would make to set up a business and the risk assessments and regulations they work under the system just isn’t fair. It also puts the public at risk from rogue operators. How many un-insured drones are in the UK sky now? The majority of commercial work involves flying in built-up areas and close to the public, precisely where risk assessment and experience is required.

Illegal operators undercutting properly authorised pilots has to be one of the key reasons so many are struggling to make enough money to continue. By removing the ability to check an operators authority to fly, the CAA has almost encouraged rogue pilots. Drone retailers have a role to play in the state of the industry too. Buy from an online retailer or high street store and it’s very unlikely that any mention of registration or the legal aspects of flying will be mentioned. This is an area where Drone Safe Store are making real strides as we insist on checking that a purchaser understands their responsibilities.

It’s believed that the CAA has collected around £3M from UK drone operators. It has to be asked how this money has been used to implement effective regulation, promote safety and raise awareness of the benefits of drone use.

How Drone Safe Register Can Help

We have been championing the safe and legal operation of drones for six years, representing the interests of professional operators.  By joining the UK’s largest network you become part of a like-minded community and can access a range of benefits including -

  • Opportunities to quote for enquiries from a safe and trusted website visited by thousands of potential customers each year

  • Commission-free client referrals for life

  • Membership of a closed networking group full of professional operators who share work and business opportunities with other members on a daily basis 

  • Your own member mini-site benefiting from a huge SEO boost

We believe the tide will turn in 2022 as the post-pandemic world returns to normal. If you aren’t already a member we’d love to have you on board.


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About the Author: DSR Journalist

Harrison Green

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