The Drone Service Industry Is A Moving Target

The vast majority of clients who call us for a quote have never hired drone aerial services previously. This is perfectly understandable and expected. Because of this we have a standard list of clearance questions we ask to quickly determine if the project can realistically move forward considering key variables like feasibility, budget, local laws, FAA regulations, public safety, etc.. This industry is moving at such a rapid pace, honestly it is a full time job for us, even as specialists keeping up with it all. Those who attempt to do drone filming (legally) as an incidental service to their existing operations truly has my sympathies. Which brings up my first talking point.

If you google “drone aerial video” or “drone aerial photography” for any location across the country, the vast majority of results will list companies that are operating outside the current FAA rules (aka illegally).

If a company is truly authorized they will prominently state that they hold an FAA Section 333 exemption on their website, Facebook and Instagram pages. This is guaranteed as it is a bit of a time consuming ordeal to obtain authorization and keeping it a secret just isn’t going to happen. Don’t be fooled by statements like “we follow all FAA safety guidelines” alone. While this sounds nice and responsible, it means nothing in real terms of FAA compliance. In my area, Cincinnati for example, depending on the device used, a search for “drone photography” yields no less than 5 of the first 7 companies that are operating illegally at this moment. These people are personae non gratae to anyone operating a drone business legally for many reasons, most of which are obvious. It isn’t very difficult to offer a lower price for services if you don’t have the correct insurance, required manpower, compliance administrative costs, and so on. Not to mention the cost related to obtaining a full size pilots license of between $5K to $10K, depending on rating sought.

I have noticed that people tend to fall into two groups when it comes to abiding by laws; Those that try to follow all laws, as much as possible, out of principle (or just not wanting to get into legal trouble) and those that only follow those laws that they agree with, and conveniently ignore those they don’t when they are comfortable they won’t get caught. Which brings me to my second talking point.

Hiring a company to perform drone services that is not fully FAA Section 333 compliant puts you and your organization at significant unnecessary risk for civil legal liability.

This is because, should an accident occur that results in significant personal injury or property damage, the plaintiffs attorney will sue everyone remotely associated with that operation and will have no problem prevailing in court once it is discovered that the company hired was operating illegally. All of a sudden the dollars saved using the lowest cost option here seem insignificant in such a scenario.

There is yet another type of drone operation that is also not authorized but is not as brazen as those openly advertising illegal services. Both groups share the same basic principles when it comes to following laws. This operator promotes their operation as “for hobby purposes only” yet behind the scenes holds a business license for drone filming and proudly displays their heavily promoted web address and phone number to contact “for additional information”. They will often be seen around town filming large public gatherings and events (not recommended) and generally trying to get into the news as often as possible for their drone use. Most often the flying violates FAA rules like flying at night, flying near airports/heliports and over city streets, all under the guise of promoting the great towns and communities they live in. They say they are not violating FAA rules because they aren’t charging (openly anyway) for their services. You can easily determine the FAA’s stance on these issues by simply visiting here:

From the FAA’s perspective there are only three types of drone use, recreational use (for fun only), public use and civil commercial use. The last two require FAA authorization. Promoting a business without charging is still considered commercial use by FAA regulations as it is done in “furtherance of a business” by either party involved. Sadly there is yet another group in this culture of drone non-compliance which brings me to my third and final talking point.

Sadly the vast majority of FAA Section 333 exemption holders have no intentions of ever following the requirements.

There are several reasons for this shocking fact. First, many view the need for a pilots license as being a ridiculous requirement that makes no sense. I understand the sentiment but also know that having someone flying drones that understands our nations complex airspace and has something of value to lose if found operating reckless or careless is not entirely such a bad thing. The reason for this curious requirement is Congress didn’t give the FAA the authority to waive licensing for commercial operation of any aircraft during the last reauthorization in 2012. Another reason is, for low value work, most clients aren’t aware of most of the section 333 requirements so these operators can easily bluff being “in compliance” with no one being the wiser. This doesn’t work for larger organizations such as national TV networks and movie studios however, who will request submittal of all required compliance documentation such as pilots license and motion picture/television filming authorization. The final reason is these operators also know that sometime soon (soon varies greatly in government circles) the Part 107 rules will be published. In the proposed rules published earlier for public comment, many of the onerous Section 333 requirements were dropped in place of a knowledge test. The exact date the final rules will be published, and exactly what they will say, is still unknown outside of the FAA at this time.

It should be noted that the Section 333 process will not go away after part 107 finally comes into effect. For work that requires flying within controlled airspace near airports and/or outside the limits of part 107, like flying beyond line-of-sight and at night, will still require exemptions and certificates of authorization (COA).

In closing, my final question for you is: do you want to work with a company that has a culture of following rules and laws, and has put forth the effort to obtain operational excellence through compliance? Or are you okay with someone who cuts corners, is not concerned with public safety and is fine using deceptive business practices? The choice is always yours alone when it comes to hiring drone services!