The FAA drones on; pro photographers should listen

Ed Lee
Mar 12, 2015

Small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), also known as drones, have caught the attention of consumers, commercial operators, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Drones are widely available for purchase, relatively easy to fly, and cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Initially, drones were ‘blind’ and did not offer much utility, except the entertainment value from flying them around. Recently, they have become more specialized in their purposes and uses. The addition of cameras, especially ones that provide live viewing, has opened a new world of opportunities for drones. Suddenly, drones have become cameras with wings.

Commercial use of drones, especially for professional photographers, is slowly becoming a reality as the FAA starts issuing regulations on how they can be used. Before spending any money on a drone for photography, pros should check out websites like Know Before Your Fly to learn what some of the rules are; otherwise, they risk the wrath of the Federal Government.

While the rules for recreational users are not stringent (e.g., fly under 400 feet, keep the sUAS in sight at all times, stay five miles away from an airport), crossing over to business use adds another level of complexity. Commercial use of a sUAS includes selling photos and videos taken from a sUAS, using a sUAS to provide contract services such as industrial equipment or factory inspection, and using a UAS to provide professional services such as security or telecommunications.

The FAA currently authorizes the use of a sUAS for commercial or business use on a case-by-case basis. This means that a sUAS cannot be flown for commercial purposes without the express permission of the FAA. One way to get that permission is through an FAA Section 333 exemption. As of March 2, 2015, the FAA had granted only 44 such exemptions, with hundreds more requests in process.

For commercial use, the FAA rule would limit flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations. In addition, the aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs., cannot fly over 500 feet in altitude, and is limited to a maximum airspeed of 100 mph. The operator must be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test every 2 years, obtain an unmanned aircraft operator certificate, and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). A summary of the proposed rules can be found on the FAA.gov website.

InfoTrends’ Opinion

The use of a drone for business can open up a whole new world of opportunities for professional photographers. It would allow photographers to obtain photos and videos of events, like weddings or breaking news, from perspectives and points-of- view like never before. Like all business decisions, the benefits have to outweigh the costs. Can pros generate enough additional revenue to offset the cost of the equipment and the certification process? If not, then the use of a drone will only be a hobby (and don’t get caught selling your images!).

 

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