Jobs in adventure: Drone pilot

All you’ve ever wanted to know about becoming a drone flyer.
By Phillippa Stewart

Don’t fancy being stuck in an office for your career? Our “Jobs in Adventure” series will introduce you to the wild and wonderful world of jobs in the outdoors. First up: How to become a drone pilot. We chat to Matt Burtwell, founder of Aerial Cornwall and the eye in the sky around the Cornish Coastline.

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What’s the best bit about being an aerial photographer?
I love showing the beauty aspect of Cornwall, and getting photos that are otherwise impossible and completely different. So many places are very photographed, especially here in Cornwall. For example, Kynance Cove has been shot onland from pretty much from the same angle. It’s good to get something completely different by turning the camera around and looking back to the land from the sea. Before drones it was only helicopters and planes that could do this - expensive trips out!

What’s the worst bit?
The wind and the weather! Not being able to do it for days or weeks because of the wind and the rain. But while you’re doing it there’s never a bad side to it.

Could you pop an umbrella on the drone?
Ha ha. No. One gust of wind and it would be like Mary Poppins!

How do you recommend someone start out?
Get a basic set up, nothing too cheap but something that you can use in the wind and with GPS. Be very safe. Practise in open areas and spread your wings slowly so to speak. Build up to the trickier location shots. Definitely follow the rules and regulations because there are a lot of them. You don’t want to land yourself in trouble so do a bit of research beforehand.

For more on this check out the Civil Aviation Authority website.

Anything unusual about your job that people might not realise?
It gets me out and about! I explore the coast a lot more. I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life but in the two years that I’ve been flying drones I’ve been to so many new places.

How heavy is the equipment? Is it physical work?
Mine’s pretty light actually, the drone itself is just over a kilo.

Do you need to do a lot of training?
If you want to do it as a hobby just practise and be safe. If you want to get into the commercial side then there are qualifications and courses to do - a lot of groundwork. There are training agencies in the UK where you can do your remote pilot qualification. Depending on where you go the qualification itself is called the RPQ (Remote Pilot Qualification) or the BNUC (Basic National UAS Certificate). Mine was done with a company called The Resource Group who are based in Wales.

Click here for more Civil Aviation Authority approved courses.

What’s the pay like?
It very much depends on what the job is and who the client is. Prices can range from £100 to £150 for some aerial stills of a house or property which is just an hour of work. If you’re shooting a larger scale promotional aerial film for an established business it wouldn't be uncommon to charge around £2000.00+. Obviously there's editing time and lots of paperwork and planning before the flight too. Clients are really paying for the finished product, i.e a finished video or still, so it's not just ‘turn up and fly and there's a few hundred quid in your pocket’ so to speak. It’s also very weather dependant.

If you weren’t an aerial photographer what would you do?
I’ve always liked photography and media but I also work in diving manufacturing which I enjoy too.

To see more of Matt Burtwell’s photography and videography check out Aerial Cornwall, or follow him on Twitter @AerialCornwall

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