Drones for Business – Things to Know
By Robert C. Dillard
Drones have become very popular for capturing aerial photos and videos real estate photography, motion pictures, and survey mapping. Depending on the sensors onboard, they can capture other types of useful data for construction and agriculture. These aircraft are small and can produce imagery in locations that normally would not be accessible. Drones can fly high above an area or structure to see the big picture that would otherwise require a manned aircraft. They also can fly in close to capture inspection quality images in areas that are difficult to reach, such as a steep rooftop. Here are some basics that you should consider before hiring a pilot service or becoming a drone operator.
What is a Drone?
Since 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has licensed pilots for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) that weigh less than 55 pounds. It can be a fixed-wing aircraft or a helicopter type that flies remotely and is piloted by a person on the ground. The most common is the quad-copter which has four propellors and usually weigh less than three pounds that are setup with high resolution cameras designed for filming. Fixed-wing aircraft are used to cover much larger areas and suitable for 2D and 3D mapping of properties. Quad-copters come in many sizes from toy to professional grade aircraft. The industry is very fast paced developing new features and abilities each year. The average professional drone that has a 4K high resolution camera for photos and video start around $400 and up.
Hobbyist vs. Professional Drone Operations:
Anyone who purchases a drone can legally fly as a “hobbyist” in most locations. There are restrictions on flying near airports and other places such as national parks, military bases, and sensitive structures such as a nuclear power plant. Hobbyist are flying for the pure enjoyment of flying and are allowed to publish their videos and photos online for personal use.
The difference between hobbyist and professional is that a professionally FAA licensed drone operator can fly for “compensation or hire.” The FAA issues what’s called a “Part 107 sUAS” license to individuals that pass an written examination that test knowledge on safety, weather, airspace, and rules of flight. This is to ensure that anyone who operates a drone professionally has the basic knowledge needed to safely operate the aircraft without endangering anyone.
What does the FAA mean by, “Compensation or Hire”?
“Compensation” is when a licensed drone operator intends to use the product (photos, video, data) for their business to receive some monetary benefits. The best examples are real estate agents and roofers. They both want to have aerial photos to sell a house or do a roof inspection in the course of their business. The agent wants to get compensated on the sale of a property. The roofer wants to save time climbing on a roof and have photos to sell the job to the client. Both are getting compensated from the sale of their services and thus need to be Part 107 licensed by the FAA. These two also happen to be the biggest targets for the FAA to investigate for operations without a license. You just can’t got buy a drone and use it in the course of business.
“Hire” is the professional drone operator that markets and sells his services. Depending on the job they will charge by the hour or a flat fee for producing the product. These pilots have passed the FAA written exam and demonstrated a level of knowledge to operate in the national airspace system. They are allowed to file flight plans and fly in areas normally restricted to hobbyist. For example, near an airport or at night.
What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Drone Operator:
The FAA has declared that drones are in the same category as a manned aircraft. This means that they take flight violations very seriously. The fines for illegal operations are very steep. They can fine an operator and the person that hired them for violations. If you hire a non-licensed pilot to fly then you are just as liable as the pilot for the fines. The FAA fines for airspace violations, flying over people, moving vehicles, and night time operations. If you hire a pilot, ask for a copy of their license and inquire about flight insurance. The best way to stay off the FAA radar is to make sure you hire experienced professionals. Also, ask the operator show you some samples of their work. Just because one can fly a drone doesn’t mean that they know how to operate a camera.
Drones can provide exciting and dynamic images that attract attention for marketing. The images can be used in many ways to produce maps, thermal imagery, 3D modeling of structures, and many other useful business applications. Just be sure you hire an experienced pilot that is fully qualified to do the job. The number one rule in the universe is that “Gravity Always Wins!” Keep looking up and fly safe!