This November, I passed the UAG exam and earned my Remote Pilot Certificate, which gives me the legal license to operate a drone commercially in the USA under the FAA's Part 107 rule. I am pleased to offer this service to clients in Kentucky and around the United States. So what does being licensed mean? Why does it even matter? In this post, I'll explain why this is serious stuff and outline the reasons you should hire only licensed pilots to provide aerial video and photo services for your business or project.
Capturing Aerial Video and Photography Is Completely Different Now
Over the last few years, the FAA has been pressured into adjusting its rules regarding the commercial use of drones (or, small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) also known as a UAV) in US airspace. With the mass-production of affordable drone systems that can capture high resolution video, the market has exploded with all kinds of gear that ANYONE can go purchase and then fly, without license or accountability.
Before the age of cheap drones, you needed to rent a helicopter and an expensive camera mount to capture professional aerial visuals. Once filmmakers noticed the new, inexpensive option that drones presented, everyone hopped on board, including myself. Now it's easy to see all manner of aerial videos for markets like real estate, tourism, and surveying.
With Great Aerial Power Comes Great Aerial Responsibility
As drones have become more mainstream, we've seen an incredible amount of stories on the internet that revolve around accidents occurring because someone made a mistake while operating a drone. Here are just a few:
And this is just what I could find in a few minutes. Google search for yourself and surely you'll find all sorts of drone-related crashes, injuries, fines, etc. This is because ANYONE can buy a drone, and they are neither skilled nor educated in methods of flying safely (or legally).
Where the FAA Comes in
The FAA now requires that recreational users register their drone, and they are subject to "civil and criminal penalties if you meet the criteria to register an unmanned aircraft and do not register," so there is now some accountability in place. Recreational users are folks who simply fly for fun or as a hobby.
To operate commercially (make money in exchange for taking aerial photos or video) the FAA now requires that you hold a Remote Pilot Certificate. Earning that isn't very easy for the average person, and rightfully so. I wrote a lengthy article about the testing process, and how hard I had to study, here on Fstoppers. To sum it up, I had to learn about airspace classifications, radio communication, weather conditions, operational rules, and proper procedures for flying a drone safely in a variety of areas and altitudes. (I've flown drones many times before, and I felt that I had reasonable experience and judgement to be safe, but after studying for the UAG, I've learned so much more and see the value in what it can teach you.)
Having FAA allowance to fly commercially used to take applying for something called a '333 exemption' but that is now in the past. (I believe that if someone previously had a 333 Exemption they are still allowed to operate commercially until that exemption expires)
Why Should you Hire A Licensed Remote Pilot
Hiring someone who owns a drone but hasn't been licensed by the FAA means you're taking a risk– and so are they. Except for showing you records from previous flights, there's no other baseline for proving competence while operating a drone. If you haven't seen one in use before, they are typically about the size of a basketball and can fly up to about 50 miles per hour. That can do serious damage to property or even a person.
This brings me to insurance. As a small business owner, I have insurance on my gear and liability for up to 2 million resulting from any claims against my business. When asking someone to fly a drone for you, it's imperative that they are insured, and you understand the associated risks involved. Working only with insured, certified pilots are your best bet in minimizing risk– not to mention giving you the best chance of success!
A successful flight doesn't just mean returning safely to the ground, it also means capturing quality aerial images while in the air. A certified pilot will likely have better piloting skills than someone who is not certified– and being a better pilot often translates to better videos and photos. Smooth turns, dynamic compositions, use of slow-motion, all of these affect your final video.