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This online community expands visibility for female drone pilots

This online community expands visibility for female drone pilots

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Photo: Matt Emmi

Less than 5 percent of certified drone pilots in the US are women, which is a dreary statistic that highlights the lack of women in STEM industries. The number for women who fly recreationally is likely much higher, but being FAA-certified can open up career opportunities to enter the UAV industry, a fact many likely aren’t aware of. To close the knowledge gap, Elena Buenrostro started Women Who Drone, an online community where female drone pilots, photographers, and videographers can come together and learn from each other.

Buenrostro, who comes from a video production background, was inspired to start flying drones after a trip to the Great Wall of China. When other women in similar creative fields started reaching out to her for drone advice, she decided to start Women Who Drone with her co-founder Laura Chukanov. The #womenwhodrone hashtag on Instagram didn’t exist before the group emerged one year ago; today, there are over 9,000 photos from female drone pilots around the world.

Women Who Drone is one of the largest online female drone pilot communities. Members share educational resources on safe drone practices along with hosting workshops and online lessons. In addition to featuring photography from over 400 women on the blog so far, the website also offers a database of its women photographers whose work is available for licensing. Last month, the organization partnered with Getty Images to license the Women Who Drone collection, which features drone photography and video footage taken by its brand ambassadors.

The group currently has 44 ambassadors internationally. All of its brand ambassadors based in the US are FAA certified. (It’s required by the government if you want to fly drones for profit and monetize your aerial content.) Having brand ambassadors around the world also allows members to share travel tips, local drone regulations, and areas where it’s safe to fly drones. As the brand ambassador program grows rapidly, Buenrostro is planning to make it easier to search and discover photographers by location.

Co-founders Elena Buenrostro and Laura Chukanov.
Co-founders Elena Buenrostro and Laura Chukanov.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Last week, the group celebrated its first anniversary at DJI’s New York headquarters, where it was joined by its members, brand ambassadors, and entrepreneurs who have built their businesses around drones. Many of the attendees came across the group online while teaching themselves how to pilot drones through YouTube videos. I spoke to two brand ambassadors who were in attendance, Fallon Chan and Emily Hines.

A photographer for 10 years, Fallon Chan picked up her first drone a year ago and stumbled across the group after a quick Google search for “women drone ambassadors.” “I wanted to get my name out there as a photographer and videographer,” Chan said. “I was looking for a way to get more exposure.”

Alternatively, Emily Hines’ background doesn’t come from photography; she’s a skydiver who’s logged in more than 1,200 jumps. After having kids, she traded in skydiving for a pilot’s license, then moved on to building her own company that specializes in real estate photography. Her company, Buzz My Property, uses drone footage to showcase huge multimillion-dollar properties and the surrounding areas to give buyers a better sense of the environment. “I got into drones through my love for flying and aviation. Drones are cheaper and faster,” Hines said. Although she’s logging less flight time these days, drones have allowed her to “find a way to stay in the sky and close to aviation.”

The barrier to entry for drones used to be that they were too expensive, but with the release of consumer-friendly drones like the DJI Spark, drones have become more accessible than ever for hobbyists. Combined with the education and resources that Women Who Drone provides, women can learn to monetize their hobbies and use them as jumping-off points to go deeper into the drone industry. Currently, the group is crowdfunding on iFundwomen to raise resources for more workshops, online courses, and scholarships. “We started off highlighting women who were using drones for visual content. But now, it’s like, look at all these women who are using it for [fields like] 3D mapping and inspection work,” Buenrostro said. “It’s not just for creative content; [it’s] for things like surveillance and humanitarian work,” Chukanov added.