The one question we are asked more than anything else is "How do I become a drone pilot?" I get asked this question almost daily by students at the high school that I teach at, and where I run a "Drone Club." Students at Elmwood High School in Winnipeg are able to get the same training that someone who registers for our full UAV Ground School Training Program would receive - though over a much longer time frame.
My answer to them is that, first of all, it is not as easy as just buying a drone and putting it in the air. There is a difference between someone who can fly a drone, and someone who can pilot a drone. A pilot understands the risks, and can adapt to situations, making informed decisions, and communicate their intentions in a timely and effective manner.
There are 3 components required in order to become a certified, professional drone pilot in Canada...
A HIGH QUALITY DRONE
You will need to buy a UAV system that is capable of capturing high resolution aerial photos and video (preferably 4k video, as that is where everything is heading these days). It should be a multi-rotor design, as these are the most versatile frames available, and allow you to operate in the most situations. It needs to have a high quality ground station (remote controller) that can transmit a minimum of 500m. The drone needs to be able to fly for at least 15 to 20 minutes. There are systems available now, such as the Phantom 4 Professional that can fly for over 30 minutes.
There are many options available on the market, though DJI is one of the most tried-and-tested platforms, and are sort of like the Microsoft of the 1990s for drones. They have systems ranging from tiny to huge - a selfie drone such as the DJI Spark - or a workhorse UAV such as the DJI Matrice 200. There are many options, but in my opinion, at the time of writing this article, the DJI Phantom 4 Professional is one of the most amazing drones on the market at this time, and I would highly recommend it for both recreational and commercial use.
CANADIAN DRONE GROUND SCHOOL TRAINING
The United States has their own professional UAV certification called a Part 107 (formerly the Section 333), which is similar, yet distinctly different than the SFOC (Special Flight Operations Certificate) that is required to fly drones in Canada commercially in many situations.
One of the stipulations of the SFOC is that you must complete Ground School Training. Actually, you will need to complete a drone training program whether you fly under an SFOC or an exemption from an SFOC. The exemption is a special set of conditions set by Transport Canada that a pilot needs to meet in order to fly a drone without an SFOC in Canada.
The final piece of the puzzle is special drone liability insurance that is specific to the operation of UAV systems. Professional or General liability insurance is not enough. You will need to get an annual policy that covers the type of operations you are looking for. The minimum requirement for drone insurance coverage, as set by Transport Canada is $100,000, but it is widely recognized in the industry that the minimum would not be enough in case of litigation. To get a $1M or $5M policy is a marginal increase in cost that is highly recommended if you plan of flying your drone in the city.
There are many insurance companies out there that are now offering drone insurance policies, however, if you are going to be getting this sort of coverage, you want to make sure that the company you get it from knows what they're talking about. They should be able to answer any question you have about the industry, without delay. In Canada, one of the best options for UAV liability insurance coverage is Drone Insurance Depot. Jeff McCann from Drone Insurance Depot explains the market well, in this article.
You'll need to work hard to make your business standout from the others, but with these three steps, you will be well on your way!
Let us know if you have any questions!