By Edward Henderson | California Black Media | June 19, 2022
For Black drone pilots, e-commerce package delivery going aerial could present new earning or business opportunities for them.
Last week, Amazon announced that its customers in Lockeford, a town of about 3500 people in San Joaquin County, will become among the first to receive Prime Air deliveries via drone.
The tech company, the world’s largest e-retailer, chose Lockeford because of its historic links to the aviation industry.
“Lockeford residents will soon have access to one of the world’s leading delivery innovations,” said Assemblymember Heath Flora (R-Ripon), whose district includes the town. “It’s exciting that Amazon will be listening to the feedback of the San Joaquin County community to inform the future development of this technology.”
Amazon’s drones fly up to 50 miles per hour and can carry packages of up to 5 pounds as high as 400 feet in the air.
Blacks and the Drone Industry
Technology and aviation industry watchers say drone pilots are in high demand right now and they predict their demand will keep increasing. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) estimates that by the year 2025, at least 100,000 jobs will be created for drone pilots. Multiple companies are set to spend over $16 billion on drones over the next eight years, with advertising agencies, construction, and security firms being among the first.
According to the Economic Research Institute, the average pay for a drone pilot is $71,669 a year and $34 an hour in California. The average salary range for a drone pilot is between $50,891 and $88,659. Entrepreneurship related to drone piloting creates opportunities, experts say, for generating new streams of income and establishing new businesses that support the industry.
Jeffery Howell, a Navy officer currently stationed in San Diego, began his journey with drones when his wife gifted him one for his birthday last year.
“At first I was nervous,” said Howell. “I’ve never really flown a drone before, so I started watching YouTube videos back-to-back, learning about the qualifications to fly drones legally and weight classes. As I delved deeper into it, there is a whole different world and community out there.”
Over time, Howell became more comfortable piloting his drone and was interested in connecting with other pilots who looked
like him. Eventually, he stumbled upon the Facebook group, ‘Black Drone Pilots,’ and connected with a community of over 300 pilots nationwide who not only shared his budding passion but were making a living with it.
On the weekend of June 11, Black drone pilots held inaugural meet-and-greets in five different cities nationwide. Howell attended the event in Newport Beach and had the opportunity to network and fellowship with local pilots.
“I was amazed at the brothers and sisters getting together just having a good time flying,” he said. “You could tell that the ones who weren’t as knowledgeable were getting pointers from the more experienced pilots. It was a beautiful thing to see.”
Inspired by his new network of professionals, Howell decided to start his own drone photography and video company ‘Air Speed Aerial Productions.’ To start his business, Howell needed to attain his Park 107 certification through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). All drone pilots must take and pass this test to receive their commercial licenses. The test costs $175 to register and there are several online guides to help study for it.
Licensed drone pilots and entrepreneurs like Howell are a welcomed sight within an industry that still has room to grow in terms of diversity. There are 250,000 drone pilots certified with the FAA. Ten percent are Black and only 3% are Black women.
Ashlee Cooper is a certified drone pilot who founded ‘Droneversity,’ a Delaware-based organization that teaches teenaged youth about the fundamentals, opportunities and innovations within drone piloting and aviation, more broadly.
“Aviation careers have always been a white male dominated field,” said Cooper. “Unless you were in the military or related to a pilot, it was unlikely you were going to tap into those positions within the aviation industry. Most of them do not require a high school or college degree.”
Youth are eligible to take the Park 107 exam at the age of 16. Cooper’s company provides courses to help them take and pass the exam as well.
“Most of these young girls and boys are gamers. They take naturally to flight. The skillset is marketable. Like gaming, it takes hand-eye coordination and knowing how to operate under pressure and solve problems quickly.”
Cooper, who also is a member of Black Drone Pilots, transitioned from her background in Molecular Biology to drone piloting during the pandemic. Her experience with secondary education created inroads for her organization to reach teenagers and help inspire them to pursue drone piloting as well.
“I still feel like I’m late, however I know my timing was divine especially because of who’ve I’ve been able to help. Being a Black woman in this industry has led to some incredible partnerships and networking. There is an opportunity as long as we provide equitable access. By making it more accessible, you have more innovators.” You can connect with Black Drone Pilots’ Facebook page here to follow their updates, get a listing of future events or learn how you can begin your own journey to drone piloting.