Flying Drones for Hire

Flying Drones for Hire

Big news came down from the FAA this week.  Finally there has been a comprehensive revision of drone flight rules for commercial gain.  What is the background on this?  Well, we all know that the price point for drones that let you create solid footage has been coming down, and is now down to ridiculous levels.  Amazon is offering a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced for $775!  I started with the Phantom 1 (which was sadly lost along with my GoPro 3 Black due to a power line incident..), followed by a Phantom 1.1 (still flying as a trainer only), and now I am flying a Phantom 3 Advanced, which is why I can safely recommend it to anyone looking for the least expensive and useful platform for shooting aerial material for anything from company promo videos, to music videos, to feature films.  Yes, there are better drones out there (Inspire 1, for example), but they cost at least 3x more than the Phantom 3 Advanced. If money is no option, get an Inspire, and call me as I’ve a few more toys I need someone to pick up for me in exchange for Producer credit on some projects!  )))   The camera on the Inspire is a bit better, but in my opinion, unless budget is very generous, its not worth the cost in the beginning, before you have established a positive cash flow from all this.

So, you now have a working drone and you’ve practiced flying it, learned the different flight modes, etc. How do you make money with it? Drones are being used to shoot weddings, engagements, music videos, parties, action sports footage, short and feature films, documentaries, advertisements, and probably many more things that I missed. You need to go out and shoot some interesting footage on your own and put together a reel.  Want some examples?

*** youtube clips ***

Now that you have a reel to show, grab yourself a WordPress website and put together an EPK – about you, reel, offer, call to action, etc.  Great!  Next question – how do you do all this legally, without having to look over your shoulder for the police or the FAA inspector?  There’s the key question! You see, flying drones for anything but commercial gain has always been legal – its covered by the same rules that govern R/C model planes. Generally the rule is fly safe, away from bystanders, and remain below 400′ AGL within 3 miles of an airport, among other rules, outlined by the Academy of Model Aeronautics here.  All very commonsense things to keep in mind. What is different about drones?

Drones are simple to fly. Drones are selling like hotcakes – the company that manufactures the Phantom, DJI, is now a ONE BILLION DOLLAR BUSINESS. They own 70% of the market, and for a good reason – their products work. Here is a good write-up on DJI and the drone market.  If you have ever flown an R/C model aircraft – glider, powered, or rotary – you know how difficult it can be to orient yourself to the model and feed it correct inputs. In some ways I can say that it is easier to fly a real plane than a model, because you lack the POV from the cockpit and the seat of the pants feel while flying a model. Modern drones feature amazing stability software/hardware that lets you fly in almost any wind with complete confidence, and get a pilot’s POV with FPV video feed that comes down to your smartphone or tablet, which is how you frame the shot and fly the aircraft. All this means that anybody can get a Phantom drone, go out, and almost immediately cause havoc with it. Bad press. You’ve seen it. Luckily, now we have a legal means to fly drones and be recognized as someone other than the aforementioned yahoo.

The Solution?

The FAA has finally made a decision on the subject of commercial drone use, and in the process has made a distinction between the public getting drones as gifts and playing with them and the people who take flying them more seriously – those who would actually go through the process of flying for hire legally. I’m not one to generally applaud big government agencies/bureaucracies, but this is a good move! What the FAA actually did was to create a new certificate class for UAS (unmanned aerial systems) pilots. This is basically a ‘pilot’s license’ in layman’s terms, just like certificates for Sport, Private, Instrument, and Commercial pilots. For those who hold any non-Student pilot certificate currently, only an exam is needed with a local FAA examiner, while those who are new to flying have to take the written and practical tests.  The press release from the FAA on this can be found here.   The rules set out by the FAA in the new Part 107 section of the FAR/AIM can be viewed here.   I read them – very reasonable stuff, and it covers every drone up to 55lbs gross weight. Trust me – that is a LOT of drone! Feature films shot on Red cameras flown by octo-copters will be easily covered by this, and I don’t see any need to fly anything bigger than this for most commercial uses.