How to comply with FAA commercial drone regulations
Notice to every eager camera crew wanting to use a Small Unmanned Air System (sUAS) for commercial purposes: the FAA’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107) went into effect August 29th, 2016. You can expect to see a whole lot more cameras in the sky for commercial purposes. Here are a few things aspiring operators need to do to prepare:
1. Check your eligibility and know the basic rules
2. Sign up for the test at one of these FAA-approved testing centers
With 690 locations nationwide, you shouldn’t have trouble finding one near you.
Note: if you already have an Part 61 pilot certificate, refer to the FAA’s fact sheet for information on your course of action.
3. Prepare for the test
You may wish to conduct your own independent study on materials directly from the FAA. Alternatively, you can take a course designed specifically for the test. There are several online programs. Whatever direction you take, the UAV Drone Coach offers a free and thorough overview/study guide of what you can expect to see on the test, including regulations, effects of weather on small aircraft, emergency procedures, maintenance and pre-flight inspection procedures, airport operations, and more.
4. Check out our drone series
Stock up on information, especially tips from existing pilots on what to do before you put all that expensive gear in the air.
5. Have fun
It’s about to get a whole lot easier to get stunning aerial shots!
The FAA commercial drone regulations you need to know
1. Here comes the sun
According to the new FAA laws, you’ll have to stick to flying during daylight hours unless your drone has lights that are visible for up to three miles.
2. Don’t fly too close
You might need to fly in the sunlight, but you don’t need to fly into the sunlight. Commercial drones shouldn’t exceed 400 feet in the air. While it’s up there, your drone should remain in your line of sight or in sight of an observer you’re in touch with. And avoid flying over folks who aren’t part of your drone shoot unless you have approval.
3. Can’t drive, can’t fly
Sorry, kiddos. Pilots must be at least 16 years old.
4. You’re up, Maverick
If you’re ready to be considered an aviator, you need to be ready to act like one, too. Pilots must pass an aeronautical test every two years.
5. Know before you go
States went ahead and passed rules while they were waiting for the big dogs to make a call. So it’s not just FAA laws you need to worry about—get familiar with local guidelines, as well.
Top 5 pros of owning a drone
1. Fly Away Home
You can program the equipment so that if you get into trouble in the air, the aircraft will go into fail-safe mode and fly “home” (the same place it took off). This prevents the worst potential fate of your fancy new equipment—fly aways (see the first con).
2. Motion picture images on an indie budget
Never before have stunning aerial shots been so accessible. With drones, small businesses can increase production value and get shots that were previously available only to major, studio-backed projects.
3. Grow your business
Uses for aerial photography are limitless and potential clients are already looking. Being one of the first to have the equipment and expertise to provide the service allows businesses and independent contractors to establish themselves and gain market share early on. Disclaimer: Before you build aerial photography into your business model, it’s important to consider the current state of laws surrounding drone usage (see the fifth con).
4. Minimal learning curve
With GPS technology already installed and the equipment retrofitted for use with a camera, you don’t have to be overly technical to succeed. Our interviewee had his GoPro in the air within seven days. The initial investment does require a good chunk of change and time to learn, but considering the alternatives (either not getting aerial shots at all or hiring a manned helicopter) the learning curve is relatively minimal.
5. It’s fun!
When was the last time you got paid for playing with a high-tech remote-controlled aircraft?
Top 5 cons of owning a drone
1. Fly aways
It’s true that this whole thing is a lot of fun, but fly aways and crashes are the easiest way to be forced down from your copter high. When the remote loses its connection with the helicopter, the aircraft will continue at the same altitude and in the same direction until the battery dies.
2. Battery life
You sure can get some amazing shots, but you better be able to get them quickly. A fully-charged copter and remote control provide seven minutes of airtime. The short capacity makes it tempting to push it, but if the battery dies midair, the copter crashes. In that case, losing the copter and camera equipment may be the least of your worries: Drones can easily do damage to people, animals, or property below.
3. You’re gonna need a copter doctor
Even if you carefully prevent fly aways and leave battery to spare, you are likely to crash a few times before you get the hang of the equipment. Even in minor crashes, certain pieces are easy to break (it’s worth noting that some of these pieces, such as the propellers, are also easy and inexpensive to replace).
4. Learning curve
Yes, this is (rightfully) listed as both a pro and a con. While our interviewee had the gear in the air within a week, he’s still learning to fly smoothly and has yet to feel confident enough to take his eyes off the screen. Since there are separate controls for both the camera and the copter, it’s easy to become disoriented and lose control. Getting airborne is one thing, but flying well enough to make more than a hobby of it will require some time, patience, and the ability to weather a few crashes.
5. Legal issues
This one warrants its own post (coming soon). Permits are required for professional use and even private use is limited. The Federal Aviation Administration is currently working to address the significant gray area around the subject.
Top 5 lessons for being a drone pilot
1. Watch before you fly
Read the manual thoroughly and search YouTube for “first flight Phantom DJI.” This will give you the benefit of gaining from other people’s failures and successes. Mark Isherwood’s “lesson learned” is simple: Don’t get too aggressive too fast.
2. Find an open field and then just do it
Once you’ve done your due diligence by following number 1, get that sucker in the air. It’s the best way to learn. It took Isherwood 10 hours to get comfortable.
3. Practice early and often
When you get comfortable, it’s not time to put the drone on the shelf. This is not like riding a bike. If you don’t keep flying, you will get rusty.
4. Don’t be shy
If you’re not crashing some, you’re not flying it. It’s easier to land than you’d think. Just take it slow.
5. Get the entry level/stock copter to practice
This was Isherwood’s number one piece of advice. The entry-level DJI Phantom won’t get your camera in the air, but at $399 it’s a great way to get comfortable flying before you take the leap of putting all your equipment in the sky. Think of it like a training course—an up-front cost that gets you in the game.