New Rules for Commercial Drone Operators – What You Should Know
By: Dan Dumas
October 12, 2016

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) calls them sUAS or small Unmanned Aerial Systems.  Everyone else calls them Drones.

On August 28th, 2016, the FAA released a long-anticipated set of new rules governing commercial sUAS or drone operations – 14-CFR-Part 107.  “People are captivated by the limitless possibilities unmanned aircraft offer, and they are already creating business opportunities in this exciting new field,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These new rules are our latest step toward transforming aviation and society with this technology in very profound ways.”

Prior to this set of strict operational rules, the industry was a complete hodge-podge of mainly hobbyists ‘illegally’ flying for profit.  The FAA set a ridiculously high bar requiring commercial operators to obtain a private pilot’s license under the confusing Section 333 Exemption.  Needless to say, the FAA realized that this requirement was impeding the growth of the industry as very few professional photographers or videographers possessed, or wanted to obtain, a pilot’s license.  This process is expensive and it is ‘apples and oranges’ to aerial camera platform operations.  Something needed to change… and it did.

The FAA announced the reality of Part 107 back in June.  The critical aspect of this change was the introduction of the Aeronautical Knowledge Test that all applicants must pass as part of the process.  Having recently passed this test, I can speak to its emphasis on safety and the knowledge base required to obtain a passing score.  I believe that the FAA should be applauded for instituting a test with a significant difficulty level that will help ensure commercial drone operators are not a hazard to the skies above us.  Not everyone applying is passing this test.  In my opinion, that’s a very good thing for the industry and the communities we serve.

Those businesses and potential clients looking to hire a professional drone company must understand that we have increased overhead costs too.  I’m often presented with surprise when quoting jobs.  Potential clients have no idea what goes into an aerial photography operation, nor should they, until they want to understand pricing structures.  Every time we fly, the following list goes into effect:

  • Pre-flight planning
  • Pre-flight authorizations and notifications
  • Flying a significant investment, even if it’s only for a few pictures (unique to our industry)
  • Training and paying a Visual Observer VOS when necessary
  • Travel
  • Back-up plans for poor weather
  • Post production of pictures and video.  This is the most time consuming aspect of the job.

These are mere logistics, and do not account for our years of experience in R/C aviation, our diligent regard for safety, or our creativity in producing the end product.  I’ve often encountered the “I know a guy that has a drone” mentality, meaning he will do it cheaper.  An important aspect that all potential aerial photography clients must understand is now, if something serious happens, you have opened yourself up to liability by hiring “that guy”.

Prior to the 107, the FAA was pretty relaxed in pursuing enforcement actions against operators and businesses using unlicensed operators.  I doubt you’ve heard of many cases against individuals, if any at all.  There were too many ambiguous areas that made the previous set of antiquated laws nearly impossible to enforce.  This changes significantly with the introduction of clear rules and processes for abiding by them.  Just because the other guy is doing it a little cheaper, doesn’t mean he’s doing it right or, in every case I’ve encountered so far, any better.  Stick to licensed and insured professionals.

I love what I do.  Taking businesses to new heights is a commitment I’ve made to achieve every single day I come to work.

Prior to this set of strict operational rules, the industry was a complete hodge-podge of mainly hobbyists ‘illegally’ flying for profit.  The FAA set a ridiculously high bar requiring commercial operators to obtain a private pilot’s license under a confusing Section 333 Exemption.  Needless to say, the FAA realized that this requirement was impeding the growth of the industry as very few professional photographers or videographers possessed, nor wanted to obtain a pilot’s license.  This is a very expensive process and it is ‘apples and oranges’ to aerial camera platform operations.  Something needed to change… and it did.

The FAA announced the reality of Part 107 back in June.  The critical aspect of this change was the introduction of the Aeronautical Knowledge Test that all applicants must pass as part of the process.  Having recently passed this test, I can speak to its emphasis on safety and the knowledge base required to receive a passing score.  I believe that the FAA should be applauded for instituting a test with a significant difficulty level that will help ensure commercial drone operators are not a hazard to the skies above us.  Not everyone applying is passing this test.  In my opinion, that’s a very good thing for the industry and the communities we serve.

Those businesses and potential clients looking to hire a professional drone company must understand that we have increased overheads too.  I’m often presented with surprise when quoting jobs.  Potential clients have no idea what goes into an aerial photography operation, nor should they, until they want to understand pricing structures.  Every time we fly, the following list goes into effect:

  • Pre-flight planning
  • Pre-flight authorizations and notifications
  • Putting a very large amount of money into the air, even if it’s only for a few pictures (unique to our industry)
  • Training and paying a Visual Observer VOS (FAA Requirement)
  • Travel
  • Poor weather back-up plans
  • Post production of pictures and video.  This is the most time consuming aspect of the job.

This list only documents mere logistics.  It does not account for our years of experience in R/C aviation, strict regard for safety, nor our creativity in producing the end product.  I’ve often encountered the, “I know a guy that has a drone” mentality, meaning he will do it cheaper.  One new aspect that all potential aerial photography clients must understand is now, if something bad happens, you have opened yourself up to liability by hiring ‘that guy.’  Prior to the 107, the FAA was pretty relaxed in pursuing enforcement actions against operators and businesses using these operators.  I doubt you’ve heard of many cases against individuals, or any at all.  There were too many grey areas that made the previous set of antiquated laws nearly impossible to enforce.  That changes significantly with the introduction of clear rules and processes for abiding by them.  Just because the other guy is doing it a little cheaper doesn’t mean he’s doing it right, or in every case I’ve encountered so far, any better.  Stick to licensed and insured professionals.

I love what I do.  Taking businesses to new heights is an internal business model we work to achieve every single day we come to work.

Dan Dumas
Digital Media Manager
FAA-Certified & Licensed Commercial Drone Pilot
Kim Swisher Communications, LLC.
Office:    (715) 437-0090
Email: dan@208.117.38.97