Re: Making money?
"My guess is that most of the licensed drone operators are not doing this as an actual line of work but as an advanced hobby, and are probably making very little actual cash off of it most probably taking a net loss if including upgrading hardware etc."
Based on the various documentaries on TV over the last year or so, there seems to be a fair number working in the TV industry. Ditto for news teams. Police are using them. National Grid are doing pylon and transmission wire inspections with them. I suspect quite a few industries are using them for hard to reach inspection jobs. All of those, including Police, have to be licences. They probably account for a fair chunk of that 3,500 annual renewals. Probably many of the freelancers are people who have seen an opportunity and are photographers or engineers offering their drone services.
The ones making all the noise (and quite rightly IMHO) are the ones you describe, advanced hobbyists who might make a little on the side.