As a business owner I, like you, am enthused by the new capabilities drones provide. We can take our images to a “new level” and the expense of aerial photography, in many ways, has become affordable. Aerial pictures, videos, and landscape shots all from one brilliant machine that we can control. So it was only a matter of time until the government stepped in and ruined the party. And if I’m honest with you I’d have to say that I think some regulation is needed for everyone’s safety and privacy.
So we looked into the laws and this is the info we have found so far: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates the commercial use of drones (unmanned aircraft systems [UAS]) under Part 107 of the “Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule.” If we don’t adhere to these rules we may be subject to fines… or worse… our image and brand may be damaged by a lawsuit. To protect ourselves and our companies from potential controversy that would usurp the benefits of using an UAS, I have compiled the laws, that we know of (Disclaimer: we are not a law firm so if you have a UAS go find the OFFICIAL rules and regulations for your state) into an easy-to-follow guide that you can refer to as you embrace this new technology.
Let us first address some key terms that will help us navigate the basic operating rules for a pilot-in-command of a commercial UAS. Keep in mind these rules only apply to UAS owners who use their drones for profit. The FAA interprets “for profit” as anything that advances your business, so even taking pictures and videos and keeping them internally can be seen as profitable.
Federal Aviation Administration: (FAA) a national organization that regulates civil aviation, aircrafts, pilots, enforces safety rules, and maintains air traffic control stations
Commercial use: for-profit use (interpreted broadly by the FAA)
Unmanned aircraft systems: (UAS) an aircraft with no human pilot
Small unmanned aircraft systems: (sUAS) a UAS that weighs between .55 lbs and 55 lbs
Pilot-in-command: (PIC) a person responsible for in-flight operation and safety
Visual line of sight: (VLOS) if a person can see an object
Visual observer: (VO) person watching the operation
First Person View: PIC watches the flight through goggles via an onboard camera on the UAS
Weather visibility: how far a person can see and identify an object in miles
Control station: where the PIC is operating the controls
Civil twilight: 30 mins before sunrise, 30 mins after sunset according to local time
Air traffic control: people that monitor and control air traffic in a certain area
- PICs must be certified (certification requirements listed below)
- UAS must weigh less than 55 lbs (including cargo)
- PIC must conduct a preflight inspection
- Do not operate if you know (or have reason to know) of physical or mental conditions that would hinder safe operation
- UAS must remain in the visual line of sight of pilot and the visual observer (if present)
- Must have a VO if the PIC is using First Person View
- Minimum weather visibility = 3 miles from the control station
- PICs and VOs may not operate more than one sUAS at a time
- Do not operate under a covered structure, inside a vehicle, or over anyone who is not willingly participating in the observation
- Operate only during daylight or civil twilight with anti-collision lighting
- Yield to other aircrafts
- Must have explicit permission from air traffic control to operate in Class B, C, D, and E airspaces*
- Do not need permission to use Class G airspace
- Max altitude = 400 feet
- Max groundspeed = 100 mph (80 knots)
- May not carry hazardous materials
- Transporting property for compensation may not occur in Hawaii, Washington, D.C., and some U.S. territories
PIC Certification and Requirements
- Must have a remote pilot airman certificate** (or be under the direct supervision of someone who does)
- Pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center***
- Register your sUAS with the FAA ⊗
- Check local and state laws before taking pictures or gathering data with your sUAS✜
- Adhere to pre-existing registration requirements✹
- Any operation resulting in injury, loss of consciousness, or >$500 in damage must be reported within 10 days
Drones for the Future
With all of this exciting technology available for us to use, it is hard to think of a downside. But, UAS operation does raise some important privacy concerns that we must consider. For example, we must not abuse the privilege of having such amazing technology by taking pictures or videos of unsuspecting people. It’s not fair and it takes away from the fun for everyone. You can refer to the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s guide as a benchmark for appropriate uses✽.
Another resource you should check out before operating a UAS is an FAA-created app called “B4UFLY.”★ The free app shows you airspace restrictions all over the United States on interactive maps. One of the easiest ways for pilots to get fined is by not researching where they want to fly and realizing too late that there are restrictions in that area.
I think drones will become a part of everyday life within the next decade. From food delivery to aerial recording, the capabilities of UAS are astounding. Who knows where UAS will take us in the future, but for now we must be responsible for using the machines safely, respecting the FAA regulations, and protecting our neighbors’ privacy. I recommend exploring the FAA’s website and the additional resources I have included below for more information. Do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. We at Design the Planet wish you happy droning adventures and look forward to seeing the development of this amazing technology!