By Doug Gritzmacher
Creative Director, Z-Channel Films, Denver, Colorado
In August, the FAA adjusted their rules and regulations for UAV operators operating their drones for commercial purposes (see our discussion of those drone rules). Many have thought the FAA’s existing rules for professional aerial videography were confusing and excessive, specifically the requirement than a drone operator was a certified Part 61 pilot, as in for airplanes.
It seems the FAA has recognized the immense interest in and application of UAVs, so kudos to them for making some changes. In fact, CNN recently reported that they are in the works with manufactures to create a drone suitable for live new broadcasting. Between that news and Amazon’s well-known interest in using drones for delivery services, the opportunities for commercial drone operation are bound to only increase. Our video production company has been using drones for our video productions for some time. If you haven’t gotten involved already, now seems to be a perfect time.
We check back in with our favorite professional UAV crew, Elite Air, to get the low down on these new rules, being referred to as “Part 107,” and their thoughts on the changes and how they will affect their work on real estate video productions and other forms of video production as well as the film and video industry as a whole.
INTERVIEW WITH AERIAL DRONE OPERATOR JONATHAN GRUBER:
The FAA recently announced new revisions to their UAS/UAV guidelines. Could you please describe to us what the changes are?
You can read a summary of Part 107 here, but I’ll provide a quick recap on the important things someone needs to know.
• Drones can still not exceed 55 lbs. If your UAS exceeds that amount you need extra waivers to fly.
• All drones over half of a pound still require registration. The process is easy and costs about $5 to register yourself as a pilot.
• Pilots no longer need to file a NOTAM with the FAA.
• You are required take and pass a 60 question multiple choice test about airspace, regulations, and general aerodynamics.
• You can now fly up to 400 feet above the object you are filming. If a tower is 1,000 feet tall, you can fly your UAV up to 1400 feet to film it as long as you are 500 feet below the clouds and within visual line of sight of the UAV.
• If you do need to operate outside of the regulations of Part 107, you can appy for a waiver. This can take up to 90 days. Flying at night, for example, would require a waiver.
• In class G airspace, you do not have to give notice to the airport, but you do need to avoid aircraft and it strongly urges you to use the local CTAF radio frequencies to monitor and communicate.
• Drones can now carry a “load” for compensation. But the drone and load must be in line of sight and cannot cross state lines. Good news for Amazon as this means they will be able to use drones to deliver your packages!
• State and local regulations still apply and you need to know what they are.
When do these changes take effect?
These changes took effect August 31st, 2016 and many pilots who took the test and passed already have received their temporary certificate to start flying.
How do you feel about the changes? What are your thoughts?
These are all great changes and a positive step in the right direction for commercial drone operators working in the aerial videography and aerial photography industries. Elite Air Productions has been operating fully legally well before Part 107, but it makes our lives a little easier, too. Although this ruling does allow more operators to get in the air, it is not going to make them great pilots or even make them award-winning camera operators. There may be more potential competition for companies like ours, but like with any industry with increased competition those with the right skills rise to the top and will continue to be sought out for professional work. All in all, this is a positive thing for the aerial video production industry.
What do these changes mean for people wanting to become UAS operators for commercial purposes?
If you are over the age of 16 and study for the piloting test, you, too, can become a commercial UAV operator. The test is rather detailed but there are numerous free guides online and with enough studying most should easily be able to pass the test. Existing drone pilots only need to pass the online course to get a certificate. The test for non-pilots is about $150 and it can be taken as many times are as necessary to pass. The FAA is requiring operators to retake the test every two years. We welcome this because it makes sure operators like us are up-to-date and aware of any changes to the UAS regulations.
Where can people new to the industry go to learn what they need to to pass the test to start flying UAVs commercially?
The best place to start your goal to become a commercial UAS pilot is the FAA. The links below are the two sources we use, but there are many other resources available online. One tip — don’t pay someone to learn this stuff, it’s all out there for free!
• Sarah Nilsson Test Prep
Up to now, you have had a competitive advantage over other UAS operators because you have a pilot’s license and a Section 333 exemption, which met the FAA’s previous guidelines. How will these changes affect your business and those like yours?
Again, skill and equipment are huge factors here. Having more than 30 years of combined aviation knowledge on a team like Elite Air makes a significant difference in the quality and breadth of shots we can execute. Yes, there are going to be many more “commercial” operators, but our clients are looking for a demonstrated track record and portfolio of quality work that someone who just bought a DJI Phantom 4 yesterday isn’t going to have. We hear stories all the time about clients who choose to go with less qualified drone operators because they are cheaper and then find the quality of work is just not what they need. The old adage “you get what you pay for” definitely applies in this industry.
• The complete list of the FAA’s UAV operator requirements.
• The FAA’s do’s and don’ts for hobbyist/recreational UAV flying.
• Register your UAV.
• Learn more about our aerial videography services for Denver real estate production.