Earlier this year the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opened the doors for U.S. commercial operations of small unmanned aircraft systems (SAUS) – also referred to as unmanned aviation systems (UAS) or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and more commonly called drones.
The most-commonly known commercial SAUS use is aerial photography and filming, widely utilized by commercial and residential real estate companies, news organizations and film/production companies. However, there is a much broader range of other industrial and commercial applications for drones beyond aerial imagery. For example, I’ve also been hired to conduct (and record) inspections of large structures and commercial properties, and to search a wilderness area in Orange County for a missing dog. Farmers and agricultural companies can use drones to monitor crops. Land management firms can use drones equipped with special sensors to analyze soil or water quality. First responders could use them in search and rescue operations, utility companies can use them for power line or cell tower inspections – even railroads can use drones to inspect long stretches of railroad tracks. The commercial utilization of drones will continue to expand as new technology offers solutions for these mentioned, and many others.
The FAA predicts that there will be more than 60,000 registered commercial drones and thousands of certified SAUS operators (FAA Part 107) this year, and some 1.3 million commercial drones registered by the year 2020. “The appetite for drones is expected to be voracious and the industry anticipates the creation of 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic activity by 2025,” according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
According to FAA data, there were 60,000 drones registered in the state of California; as of 12/1/16 the FAA reports 1,782 people have been issued Part 107 Certificate status for commercial operation. (drone pilots). That means barely 2% of the drones flying around the state of California have an FAA licensed pilot operating them. Before you hire a drone pilot for your business needs, there are some important things you need to know and three vital questions you need to ask.
Three questions you must ask
1: Is your drone registered? Please provide a copy of the registration. Just like automobiles must be registered and issued a license plate, every SAUS (over .55 lbs) must be registered with the FAA before flying, whether they are for commercial or recreational use. When registered, each individual aircraft is given a registration number that must be displayed on the aircraft (just like a license plate on your car).
2: Are you FAA certified to fly commercial operations? Please provide a copy of your remote pilot certificate (also referred to as drone pilot’s license). Currently there is no easy way to verify if somebody is a legitimate, FAA approved SAUS operator other than the actual certificate issued. It is incumbent upon you to verify the pilot’s credentials by asking for that documentation. Prior to Part 107 taking effect the FAA issued exemptions for commercial operators, so you might have a prospective contractor indicate they are covered under a 333 exemption, however I suggest that you only hire a remote pilot with an actual FAA certification as most insurance companies will only cover those who are fully FAA certified. Which leads to the final, most important question….
3: Do you have liability insurance? Please provide valid proof of insurance. You should only hire a drone operator who has liability insurance covering the specific operation you are contracting them for, and it is incumbent upon you to verify that. I cannot stress this enough! Accidents happen, even to the most careful and experienced drone pilots. Let’s say that you’re a real estate broker and contract an SUAS operator to film footage of a luxury listing; during the filming a sudden gust of wind causes a fly-away incident and the drone crashes into power lines, knocking out power to thousands of homes. Guess who could be legally liable for that, along with the drone operator? That’s right, YOU as the person who contracted the flight. In order to protect yourself, always ensure that the drone pilot has current insurance that covers your specific job and verify that with proof of insurance.
The new FAA Part 107 rule allows the commercial use of drones, but by law, any commercial SAUS operation in the national airspace requires a registered aircraft, a remote pilot certificate (FAA license) and only operation within non-restricted, Class G airspace; operations inside Class B, C or D airspace must obtain prior approval before the operation via a waiver application. Drones can only be operated during daylight, unless specific permission is granted under a waiver. You can find a summary of the FAA part 107 rules and operational guidelines online at the FAA website www.faa.gov.
Joe Cockrell is a freelance multi-media journalist and video producer with over 20 years of experience; he is a fully insured, FAA Part 107 certified SAUS operator based in Orange County, California and serves clients in cities such as Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Dana Point, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, La Palma, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Diego, Oceanside, Carlsbad, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, Yorba Linda.