Starling Productions|August 21, 2018

How To Hire a Drone Operator Who Will Take Your Business to New Heights

Posted by Robert


There’s no denying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or, more commonly, as drones, are becoming ubiquitous in all aspects of our lives; and film and television are no exception. Unmanned aerial photography and cinematography is by far the fastest growing segment of our services. With cost becoming more reasonable and the idea more mainstream, many companies consider drone video to be a crucial marketing tool. Something that will keep them on the cutting edge and ahead of the competition.

To be blunt, drone video marketing is just plain cool. It adds a unique perspective and level of sophistication that can effectively tell your brand story and position the company as being “on the cutting edge,
” like never before.

And with continued advancements in drone technology, their marketing capabilities can enhance and save money across a multitude of industries. In the past, photographers and filmmakers needed cranes and helicopters to record from the sky. But now, all you need is a drone (and pilot) to record from aerial perspectives that previously required a lot of time, effort, and money.

With increasing demand, it’s no wonder that drone services have become such a hot industry. Not long ago, there were only a small number of drone pilots to choose from in any given location, but now, that is far from the case. Recently, the FAA hit 100,000 Remote Pilot Certificates issued nationwide. With growth comes growing safety concerns; for other aircraft and people on the ground. And while competition breeds better service, the sheer ocean of pilots flooding the market means you’ve got to be extra vigilant when it comes time to hire a drone operator for your project.

Here are a few of my tips, for a smooth hiring process and to ensure you find just the right professional for the job.


What some people consider important in a drone pilot may differ from others. Take your specific project or production into consideration and decide what qualities matter the most. What are you trying to accomplish? What kind of imagery are you looking for?

Understand that there are a lot of qualities that make up a good drone pilot, and you will need to decipher who is right for your particular job. Drones are impressive and it’s easy to get struck with awe at their capabilities without fully understanding the work and skill that goes into a successful mission. Just because someone is an FAA licensed drone pilot doesn’t necessarily mean they are a safe or capable drone photographer. There are tricks to understanding the best lighting and even harder tasks like holding focus on moving objects.

How To Hire a Drone Operator Who Will Take Your Business to New Heights

I encourage all of my clients to collaborate with me on their project and come along to pre-scout the location. That way we can troubleshoot, plan, and prepare how the final shoot needs to go, beforehand. This greatly eliminates the potential for misunderstandings or misaligned expectations. And on the day of the shoot, I also provide them with a headset and client monitor so they can follow along, provide input, and get exactly what they want out of their shoot.

There are many rules and regulations on drone flight. Becoming familiar with these limitations will help you to understand the reality of the service and any limitations. Knowledge is the power you need to guarantee a successful hiring and not end up with someone who does not know or follow FAA and local laws.

Some of the most important regulations include the following:

  • Flying in restricted airspace (including most metropolitan areas) requires prior approval from the FAA. This even applies to private property if you are in restricted airspace.
  • The operator of a drone must be FAA certified or directly supervised by someone who is.
  • A drone operator’s license must be renewed every two years.
  • If flight will take place at night, your pilot must obtain a special Daylight Waiver. Be sure to request and keep a written copy of it.

Remember that since drones and drone imaging have not been around long, you must use your best judgment in deciding if an individual has the professionalism and experience you are looking for. And that’s where the interview process comes in…


You probably don’t need to have a typical sit-down interview, but always ask potential drone pilots these important questions, at least by phone or email. A few simple questions will help you decide if you’ve found a drone professional who is properly licensed, capable, and knows what they’re doing when it comes to drone imaging. And of course, request a demo reel so you can get a good feel for their shooting style and breadth of work.

What kind of licensing do you have to pilot your drone?

As the producer or client, it is your responsibility to confirm the pilot has valid credentials and insurance. Just like hiring an unlicensed driver, you could be held accountable if anything goes wrong. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all drone professionals to have a special license that must be renewed every two years. If you’re hiring someone to do commercial drone work, you’ll want to confirm that the pilot is currently certified to operate a drone legally and safely.

  1. Request a copy of the pilot’s FAA license and confirm it is valid. You can verify their license on the FAA website at
  2. Request a copy of their aircraft FAA registration for each drone.
  3. If you plan to film at night, your pilot must also have an FAA Certificate of Waiver called a Daylight Waiver. Request and keep a written copy of it.
  4. Most metropolitan areas are in restricted airspace. That means your pilot will need a written Authorization or Waiver from the FAA and you should keep a copy of it on file. A select few pilots have blanket authorizations or waivers to fly as we do, but others must apply 90-120 days in advance to the FAA.

Do you have liability insurance for the drone you’ll be flying?

Just in case something bad happens, like property damage, you don’t want to be held accountable. Request proof of their UAV specific aircraft insurance. A common misconception is that business or production insurance will cover drones and unfortunately, it does not. So, it’s crucial to make sure your pilot has all of their ducks in a row.

What is your previous drone flying experience?

As with any type of hire, the more related the experience, the better. If you are going to be shooting aerial video for film and television, for example, you might not want a pilot whose sole experience is event or real-estate drone photography. That being said, if you can’t find someone with experience in your exact industry, try to hire a drone pilot who has worked a wide breadth of gigs and thus proven their adaptability.

What kind of equipment do you use?

You want to make sure the quality of the drone equipment matches the individual project you need it for. Be sure, as well, that the camera quality is the same as what you may be editing in. Nothing looks worse than two shots that don’t match. For instance, we offer 4k and up to 6k super 35 cinema cameras.

How To Hire a Drone Operator Who Will Take Your Business to New Heights

The rules are strict when it comes to the operation of drones. Without local film permits and planning, the whole production could be at risk. I like to be extra cautious with a courtesy call to the local police notifying them of a planned shoot. Doing this eliminates wasted effort on their part looking into why there is a drone flying in the area and minimizes the possibility of costly interruptions or delays on shoot day.

Outlining a picture or professional storyboard for what you would like to capture, can also help you stay time and cost efficient when it comes to getting the shots you need. A good storyboard provides clear direction for your project and helps limit delays or unnecessary flight times. If you make certain that you and the drone pilot are on the same page, you can expect shots that, not only, follow your ideal storyline and subject, but also takes your story to new heights!

The field of drone operation is growing, and it is an exciting time to see businesses use this technology to soar to new heights (literally)! But let’s not forget, with any business, there are the right (and wrong) partners to work with.

How To Hire a Drone Operator Who Will Take Your Business to New Heights

It can be hard to distinguish which is which in this new world of technology, but by understanding the criteria that make for a good drone professional, it becomes much simpler to make the right choice.

The right person will collaborate and plan along with you to narrate the story you are trying to tell. They, not only, will get the shots you want but also bring other ideas to the table to enhance the project. Your results are directly dependent on how carefully you go about finding the best fit for your job. Use strategies like researching, planning ahead and asking hard questions, and you’ll be sure to find the right drone operator for your project.

Interested in learning more about our drone services? Click here to see some of the amazing aerial work that we’ve produced.