Welcome to 2017 where you, or someone you know, probably has a great idea regarding the drone they just got.
Now, it may seem like an entrepreneurial stork just landed at your doorstep, however the current drone laws are still impractical. With commercial applications ranging from agricultural inspection to e-commerce delivery, the options are limited only by your imagination, right? Wrong.
The industry estimated to be worth $127 billion by 2020 (PricewaterhouseCoopers) is subject to increasing scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation and Safety Board, and Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) alike. Almost anyone can become a professional cinematographer with drones, but this inherent artistic advantage isn’t the main reason for increased regulation — safety is!
Now before we continue, let us clarify that most of the federal regulations apply to commercial, but not recreational activities. So, if you want to fly your pocket drone at the ranch, you should be good to go. However, if you want to make money on your drone flights, the FAA-mandated Part 107 test is the best place to start.
As many drone entrepreneurs know, the Part 107 is an overburdening test that a drone operator must pass if he or she is planning on commercial operations.
But aside from the foreign-sounding radio communication procedures, the test is no LSAT. If you put the time in and study, you can pass it. This puts the onus on the entrepreneur — the person who often thinks he or she is invincible. Part 107 requires us entrepreneurs to take a step back, and seriously learn about aviation.
This includes aeronautical physics, flight planning, radio communication, and airspace classification. But most importantly, it teaches us to respect the laws of the skies – which long preceded our entrepreneurial daydreams.
In an environment that changes exponentially fast, it’s not only responsible, but necessary that the FAA regulates drone flights.
However, the process itself needs to be expedited and fixed. As it stands now, one must register online many flight specifics: latitude, longitude, altitude, date and time of flight.
For example, if I wanted to film Klyde Warren Park and sell it to a nearby business, I would register the flight coordinates (32.7894° N, 96.8018° W) for 1/30/17 at 300’ altitude at 13:45 UTC (the air traffic time zone), among other details. The FAA has 90 days to respond to your waiver of airspace (it can be a waiver of any other section of Part 107, too).
Well, how do you know if the weather will be clear in 90 days? How can you be sure there won’t be 30 MPH wind gusts?
The current rules require online registration and ATC clearance. This process should be ultimately automated, so here’s how. The FAA needs to:
- Keep Part 107 – drone operators need to learn about aviation fundamentals and safety.
- Keep online flight registration, but include the ability to change the date and time of the flight in the event of inclement weather.
- Ensure ATC be in contact with remote pilots in command (PIC) — leave the FAA out of it after they grant a Part 107 waiver. If any flight plan amendments arrive, such an issue should be resolved between ATC and the PIC.
Should you not have the patience for the FAA to make a procedural change, worry not! There are ways to structure a successful drone company in the current regulatory environment. Whether it be agricultural surveying or news footage of disaster zones, one just needs to strategize their business model accordingly.
Currently, the best places to target potential clients are outside of major cities.
Most major cities are within Class B airspace, which is the most unlikely and untimely airspace to receive authorization.
Agricultural or land surveying, ranch photography, and windmill inspections are a few of many ideal applications because they are often in class D or E airspace, making it easier and faster to receive authorization (Class G Airspace is the most ideal). Secondly, pursue long-term jobs without hard time commitments when possible.
After all, it is impossible to know when you will receive your FAA waiver within the 90-day window.
Being an entrepreneur at such an infantile stage of the UAS industry is both frustrating and confusing. But have faith my friends, the FAA will learn from these early-stage bottlenecks, they will improve, and this multibillion-dollar industry will eventually be practical for anyone with the inclination and motivation to pursue it.
So, there it is! The current state of drone rules, regulations, and strategic suggestions. It’s not perfect, but as entrepreneurs, we solve problems. A combination of patience and strategy will allow anyone to become a commercial drone operator. Be committed, learn the process, and respect the skies. Happy Flying!
Will Ammons works for TriTex Group.
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