What Does An Aerial Survey Pilot Do (including Their Typical Day at Work)

Alyssa OmandacCareer, Overview

Salary, Job Description, How To Become One, and Quiz

Aerial Survey Pilots

The main job of an Aerial Survey Pilot is to fly planes equipped with various sensors. They follow specific GPS coordinates to collect data that is downloaded after the flight.

Interest Match

Aerial Survey Pilots help collect valuable data from the sky. Using magnetometers, spectrometers, and other equipment, they capture data that would take much longer to collect from the ground.

Becoming an Aerial Survey Pilot may also open the doors to other career opportunities. As Survey Pilots require commercial pilot licenses, they may also work for plane charter companies. Gas and electric companies often hire pilots to patrol pipelines and power lines.

You may also skip college to enter this career, as Aerial Survey Pilots typically only need to meet the requirements of a Commercial Airline Pilot.

What they do

The main job of an Aerial Survey Pilot is to fly planes equipped with various sensors. They follow specific GPS coordinates to collect data that is downloaded after the flight.

Fly Small Airplanes Along Predetermined GPS Routes

Aerial Survey Pilots perform most of their work in the sky. They fly small airplanes along preset GPS routes. The routes are set by the employer based on their specific needs. For example, an Aerial Survey Pilot working for a utility company may need to fly over specific power lines. When working for an agricultural company, the pilot may fly over fields.

In many cases, the Aerial Survey Pilot flies the plane to its maximum endurance, resulting in long flight paths. You may spend most of the day following a single GPS route. 

Inspect Equipment Mounted to the Plane

Aerial Survey Pilots rarely operate the equipment used to collect data. The equipment is typically mounted to the exterior of the plane, such as on the wingtips or in a forward or rear-facing position on the fuselage.

Before taking off, the Aerial Survey Pilot may need to inspect the placement of the equipment and ensure that everything is secure.

Review the GPS Routes and Flight Plans

Along with inspecting equipment, Aerial Survey Pilots may need to review the GPS routes and flight plans. Each project is carefully planned to ensure the accuracy of the data collection methods. 

Pilots need to stick to the planned flight path and maintain a specific altitude. Depending on the project, a pilot may need to fly just 500 feet or thousands of feet above the sea level.

Travel with an Equipment Operator

Most of the data collection equipment is automated and collects data as the pilot follows specific flight paths. However, some equipment may need manual input. If manual input is required, the pilot typically flies with an equipment operator or technician. The technician handles the equipment while the Aerial Survey Pilot focuses on providing a safe flight.

Fly Small Aircraft in a Variety of Environments

Aerial Survey Pilots often need hundreds of hours of logged flight time and certification to fly in all types of weather. Pilots may fly in clear skies or severe weather.

What is the job like


You Get to Spend Hours in the Sky

Pilots typically love the fact that they get to spend most of their work hours in the sky.

You Get to Help Collect Valuable Data

Aerial Survey Pilots help collect valuable data, such as environmental data or infrastructure data that may be used to improve the lives of people or animals.

You May Not Need a College Degree

Aerial Survey Pilots do not typically need a college degree to enter this field.

Your Qualifications May Lead to Other Jobs

As a licensed Commercial Pilot, an Aerial Survey Pilot can find other work, such as flying for private plane charter companies.


Some of the Flight Paths May Become Boring

Some projects require pilots to continually fly the same GPS route each day, which can become boring.

You May Occasionally Fly During Severe Weather

During severe storms, companies may delay flights. However, severe storms can also arise when you are already in the air, which can be scary. 

Where they work

Farming and Agriculture
Environmental Protection Agencies
Utility Companies
Aerial Survey Companies

Aerial Survey Pilots work for companies that need to collect data, which may include companies in almost any industry. Farming companies may employ Pilots to collect data from the fields. Environmental protection agencies may hire Pilots to collect geographical or environmental data. Power companies use Pilots to survey power lines and other infrastructure equipment.

How to become one

Step 1: Earn a Student Pilot Certificate

High school students can earn a student pilot certificate, starting at the age of 16.

Step 2: Earn a Private Pilot License

After the age of 17, aspiring Aerial Survey Pilots may earn a private pilot certificate through a pilot training program. Programs typically last three to six months.

Step 3: Earn the Instrument Rating

Earning the instrument rating allows you to fly planes in all kinds of weather, which is often necessary for this career.

Step 4: Earn a Commercial Pilot Certificate

Aerial Survey Pilots need a commercial pilot certificate. To earn the commercial pilot certificate, you need to pass a knowledge test and a practical test.

Step 5: Log at Least 250 Hours of Flight Time

Most employers prefer to hire candidates who have logged at least 250 hours of flight time. 

Step 6: Look for Aerial Survey Jobs

After logging at least 250 hours of flight time, start looking for jobs as a Survey Pilot or Line Pilot.

Should you become one

Best personality type for this career

The Builder

People with this personality type likes practical and hands-on work. They prefer working with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery.

You can read more about these career personality types here.

Aerial Survey Pilots require confidence, as they may face difficult situations in the sky and need to respond quickly to potential disasters. Pilots also need to have good listening skills to understand the requirements of each flight.

Working as an Aerial Survey Pilot also requires situational awareness, due to the need to remain aware of all surroundings and potential hazards in the sky.

Take this quiz to see if this is the right career for you.


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