Job Description: Aerial Surveyor

What is an aerial surveyor and what does the role involve?

What is an aerial surveyor and what does the role involve?

Aerial surveyors are commonly deployed when there is a demand for a detailed map or additional information to be collected about an area that is not visible from the ground.

Traditionally, aerial surveys have been used by the mining industries but are also commonly used by environmental agencies and local councils to keep data on anything from land boundaries to numbers of trees, wildlife and insect populations. They can also be used for building purposes to survey proposed sites as well as for reconnaissance missions.

An aerial survey is a method of collecting geomatics or other imagery from the air, either in an aeroplane, helicopter, hot air balloon, or an unmanned aerial vehicle (an aircraft piloted by remote control or on board computers such as a drone).

The day-to-day

  • Researching and understanding the client’s requirements.
  • Studying a map of the area to be reported upon.
  • Selecting the aerial equipment that will best meet the specifications of the job.
  • Getting the equipment ready including specialised tools such as GPS.
  • Organising the survey mission.
  • Liaising with the pilot to co-ordinate surveying activities.
  • Taking photographs and notes of the area in question.
  • Using the aerial information and photographic evidence, the aerial surveyor can complete a report of the area using a combination of airborne reconnaissance together with an analysis of existing aerial photographs, often airborne laser scanning otherwise known as LiDAR is used. This is a method that measures distance to a target by illuminating that target with a laser light. Video monitoring, thermal imaging and high resolution oblique photography can also be used.
  • Once all this data is gathered the aerial surveyor can both compile a report and draw up a map using a computer software package such as a geographic information system (GIS) which captures, stores, checks and displays data related to positions on the Earth’s surface.

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Key responsibilities

  • Meeting the client’s requirements from understanding the initial brief to submitting a report.
  • Liaising with pilots and planning a flight.
  • Checking equipment and using a mixture of technology to capture photographic evidence and other points of interest.
  • Interpreting collated photographs and data.
  • Analysing and understanding patterns and relationships that are uncovered from the GIS.
  • Compiling reports that are accurate and combine visual, aerial photographic evidence as well as a comparison to old data and past photographic and mapping records.

Key skills

  • Interested in and passionate about geo-information.
  • Map work orientation skills.
  • Strong technical skills, preferably in relation to the use of specialist photographic and LiDAR equipment.
  • Comfortable in being airborne frequently.
  • Experienced in working with 2D and 3D data.
  • Ability to work as part of a team and communicate with a range of stakeholders.
  • Solid report writing and compilation skills.
  • Excellent attention to detail.
  • Outstanding organisational and planning skills.
  • Great presentation skills.
  • Used to managing client requests in a professional manner.
  • An analytical mind.
  • Ability to gather data and interpret results.
  • Good operational skills and aptitude.
  • Flexibility and a professional manner.
  • Data and information management.
  • Keeping up-to-date with new and emerging technologies.


  • A bachelor’s degree in a related subject such as geography.
  • A surveying qualification is highly desirable as well as membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
  • Increasingly, drones are being deployed as they can be as effective as other equipment and are more cost effective. If this is the case it is essential that land surveying drone training is undertaken to understand how to safely operate these devices. You also need to be aware of the legal framework for operating drones to avoid breaking the law.

Relevant experience

  • Field work experience of using survey techniques and operating aerial photographic equipment.
  • Ideally candidates will have worked previously in an aerial surveying role but related surveying land experience may be acceptable.
  • A working knowledge of GIS, LIDAR, GPS and other technologies is highly sought after.


Because aerial surveying has to take account of weather conditions and may be urgently required at short notice, there might be a requirement to work a flexible shift pattern. Working hours will vary between operators and candidates will need to check if this information is not ordinarily available on a job advert.


Aerial surveyors can earn between £21,000 and £45,000. The salary depends upon job type - whether you are classified as an aerial surveyor, land surveyor, an assistant or technician. It will also depend upon the industry, your level of experience and your qualifications - most notably whether you are a chartered member of RICS.  Many contracts will be offered on a fixed term basis.

Career opportunities

A grounding in aerial surveying may provide a platform for related careers. It is important to research the requirements for these as it is likely that further qualifications will be required to take up these roles.

  • Land surveyor
  • GIS analyst
  • Regional planner
  • Cartographer
  • Landscape architect

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