The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) insists there is no gray area: Using drones for cash without a permit is illegal. But when drones equipped to fly cameras are as easy to get as commercial permits are hard, you end up with a skyload of illegally-operated unmanned aerial vehicles (as the Drone Dudes’ packed schedule, high-profile clients, and long highlight reel demonstrate).
According to the FAA, “A commercial flight requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval.” Fines can be steep, but in 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board dismissed a $10,000 fine against one operator, likely emboldening others.
Illegal usage is the name of the game right now. Some operators are blatantly ignoring the rules and simply not requesting permits (which are frequently denied). Others create their own fudgery by offering airborne services but only charging for editing (though perhaps at a premium fee).
Those who want to fly above board are in for a tough road or a long wait. Last summer (2013), the FAA granted one permit for commercial operation. This summer, BP gained permission to operate a small craft, originally designed for the military, to perform aerial surveys. By this time next summer, the FAA will need to be near a plan for “safe integration” of unmanned aircraft systems. Operators are eagerly awaiting the Congress-mandated deadline—September 30th, 2015.
They are gaining experience by flying over private land and in accordance with model aircraft guidelines as they await word from the FAA, which is under increasing pressure to open access and is also considering exemptions for the film industry.
In the meantime, the industry is forging on: Skilled operators are flying and eager clients are buying.
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