1. Are my operations commercial?
If you’re using drones for anything other than completely personal use, the operations are almost certainly commercial. Many people mistakenly believe that if they donate their services, their operations are not considered commercial. Any time there is a commercial benefit from the use of the content created, the operation is considered commercial.
Administration of city governments, non-profits, churches, charities, and other similar entities is technically a commercial activity, even if the operations are not generating a profit. Providing services to create content for these entities is a commercial activity, even if you aren’t being paid to fly.
2. Does my pilot have a license?
If you’re flying missions to create content or provide services commercially, as described above, you must have a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. This involves taking a test to demonstrate you understand airspace and how to stay out of the way of civil and military aviation activities.
You absolutely want to take the time to learn about the airspace tools and rules for safe flight operations. Study materials and details on how to take your test can be found at www.faa.gov/uas/.
3. Is my drone registered with the FAA?
All drones used for commercial operations MUST be individually registered with the FAA.
You may have seen articles recently about a lawsuit that struck down the UAS registration requirement. This judgement was regarding ONLY recreational UAS use. The registration requirement for commercial drones is still very much in place. The registration process is quick and simple, and only costs $5.00 per UAS. Details can be found at www.faa.gov/uas/.
4. Is my UAS service provider local to my state?
While the Federal Aviation Administration is the authority when it comes to aviation operations, some states have passed additional laws regarding commercial use of UAS, or about business in general. This is especially important if the mission involves generation of 3D and other data models for construction or engineering purposes.
If you contract with a UAS service provider that does not regularly operate in your state, they may not be aware of the laws and regulations that apply in your state.
5. Does my mission fly in controlled airspace?
Operation in any airspace other than Class G airspace requires prior approval. Additionally, there are military operations areas and other restricted areas that require special permissions or are off-limits. Make sure your UAS service provider can explain the airspace to you clearly.
The airspace maps are challenging for a non-pilot to read unassisted, but any quality pilot should be able to walk a non-aviation person through the airspace map with no problem. If your pilot cannot, think twice about using their services.
6. Does my mission fly over people?
Any mission flying over people that aren’t actually part of the mission requires a special waiver from the FAA. There are extremely few companies that have been granted this waiver.
If you’ve seen drone video that looks straight down as the UAS passes over fairs, races, moving traffic, concerts, pools, and amusement parks, or any kind of event crowd, it’s almost certainly not legal.
If you see this kind of content in the social media feed of your UAS services provider, ask them if they have a waiver. They probably don’t.
7. Is my drone carrying cargo?
Carrying cargo is technically not illegal, but the rules require the PIC (Pilot in Command) to ALWAYS be able to see the UAS with unassisted vision. That means they can’t use an FPV (First Person View) system, binoculars, or other device to see the UAS while in flight.
The unmodified range on many pro-sumer models of UAS is greater than a mile, but the generally accepted limit of the human ability to maintain sight of most small UAS with the naked eye in clear weather is one mile.
Additionally, the remote control systems for most UAS are line-of-sight, meaning if the UAS goes behind a building or tree, or descends and no longer has a direct unobstructed line-of-sight to the remote controller, there is a strong possibility of loss of control.
Flying the UAS from a moving vehicle while the UAS transports cargo is also not legal, so following the UAS in a chase vehicle won’t work. It also defeats the purpose of UAS cargo transport.
In short, for both legal and mechanical reasons, UAS cargo transport under the current rules with today’s most common small UAS tech is not practical.
8. Is my drone flying long distances?
As mentioned above, flying beyond VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) requires a special waiver from the FAA, and the systems, scope, and scale of that kind of operation make them commercially impractical. The only companies getting special permission for these kinds of systems are aerospace companies experimenting with long-range control systems and assisting in the efforts to create UAS air traffic control systems.
If you need to fly long-distance missions that don’t involve research into improving UAS systems, you’re better off looking at other tools, like manned fixed-wing and rotor craft.
9. How much does my drone weigh?
If your drone weighs less than 0.55lbs, you don’t need to worry about anything mentioned in this post. The FAA rules don’t apply to anything that weighs less than 0.55lbs. If your UAS weights more than 0.55lbs, then all of these rules apply to your operations. If your drone weighs more than 55lbs, then there are even more rules that apply.
10. Is there a special event in or near the area of operation?
Special events sometimes have flight restrictions that are NOT PUBLISHED on the aviation resources that pilots use to plan their flights. This is an area where it REALLY pays to use a professional UAS service provider.
A quality commercial UAS pilot will have a good relationship with local law enforcement, and be able to check with them to confirm local events that may impact planned operations.
Confused? Don’t worry. You don’t have to figure this all out for yourself. If you’re using a professional UAS service provider, they should be able to walk you through each mission, so you understand how it is compliant. If they can’t, you may want to find a new provider.
Are you considering using a UAS for your business? Contact me today to learn how to use UAS the right way. I’ll review your mission at no charge, so you know you’re flying right.
Dave Agler is an FAA Certified UAS (Drone) Remote Pilot, and loves using his skills to create content that helps get businesses off the ground. You can learn more about using drones for business at http://drones.doubleimedia.com/