Senior explores passions through drone-flying job

March 9, 2020 — by Apurva Chakravarthy

From getting aerial views of houses and restaurants to taking pictures in the Bahamas for a Jack-in-the-Box conference, senior Shiv Gupta’s drone-flying business has skyrocketed in the past three years.

Gupta has been flying drones for 12 years, a passion that started with remote control helicopters. His love for flying primarily stems from its ability to show him the world in a completely different lens; a birds-eye view of a place provides a whole new perspective on a scene, Gupta said.

“If you go up to Highway 9 and fly, you see the rolling hills, the trees, the golden grass,” he said. “It’s to die for.”

Although anyone can buy a drone, a pilot has to be commercially licensed in order to make money from it. To become licensed, Gupta had to take the 2.5-hour Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test three years ago. While flying, he is also required to follow all the FAA rules and regulations, such as steering clear from airports and aircrafts and avoiding large groups of people, events and stadiums.

Gupta’s business focuses on using drones for real-estate inspections and cyber surveillance. His clients include those in residential real-estate as well as commercial and industrial businesses. 

Residential clients and realtors selling or inspecting property ask Gupta to  photograph their roof from different angles to get a birds-eye view of the home. These photos then go on a website like Zillow, which shows home listings to potential buyers.

During the winter, many residential clients use Gupta’s services to image their roofs to find potential leaks or damages to be repaired before the rainy season. 

Although Gupta’s main clients are family businesses, his primary client is his parents’ business: Jack-in-the-Box restaurants. His parents own 48 Jack In the Box locations on the West Coast. A few times a year, Gupta flies to the company’s headquarters in Oregon and takes aerial shots of restaurants and the headquarters. The photos of  heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units or HVAC units and the piping of the building offer clues about the condition of structures. 

With Jack-in-the-Box, Gupta has also traveled to the Bahamas for its annual conference and taken pictures of firework shows and different sunsets. He even added to his U.S. drone certification by also getting one from the Bahamas.

How much Gupta gets paid for his work depends on the size of the area he’s taking photos of and costs to get to the area. He takes into account the time he would have to spend as well as labor, material and risk assessment costs. For example, if someone wanted images after sunset, it would cost more because there is a higher risk of damaging the drone in the dark. 

Finding new clients is often  by word of mouth, Gupta said. In one instance at a Jack-in-the-box convention, another franchise asked him if he could make it up to Sacramento for a weekend to image their new restaurant.

Gupta can see himself working in a similar field in the future, saying that “unmanned aerial vehicles are the future.” He looks at companies like Tesla and Waymo with their self-driving cars as proof that the world is changing rapidly and won’t look or function the same in 20 years. 

Said Gupta: “If I’m not flying them directly, I would want to find a way to help society with drones.” 

Gupta plans to take his drone with him to college, and while he may not continue his commercial business, he says his drone can be used for many recreational purposes. Locally, he has taken his drone to Highway 9 or the Stevens Creek Reservoir to take pictures. 

He has also used his drone in many unexpected ways. In Costa Rica on a family vacation, he found that he could use his drone to herd horses and cows across the farms. 

Through running this small business on his own, Gupta has learned how to be more independent and how to manage his time. He has also developed his sales and negotiation skills as he tries to sell his services in the best way, he said. 

Even more than life skills, flying has provided Gupta the thrill of seeing the world in a different way. 

“It’s a different sense of control,” Gupta said. “You have complete control, but at the same time you’re completely out of control.”

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