Dear Fellow Members
Many of us are thinking about doing business using manual remote controlled, gps assisted and/or unmanned aerial systems now that FAA is starting to release the aerial space for that.
I understand that now only a few test police agencies are allowed to fly unmanned missions and that the air space for drones will gradually be opened.
But for us diyers or hobbyists thinking in creative ways to explot the many technological innovations that are reachable with a low budget aircraft .....what is the real possibility of being able to offer aerial photo or video services and charge for those flight sessions legally?
I have seen many websites offering "Free" flights as a hobby and charging for "editing" the video or pictures so they disguise the real commercial aspect of their activity.
Is there a real future being addressed for that type of business?
And second.... to supply drones or services using drones like Arducopter to the police or fire departrments does the manufacturer of such equipment need to go to some type of certification process so the aerial platform is qualified for that?
Thank you for your kind answers!
If they follow the current process you'll have to have a "type" certification or an "experimental" certification.
If I were looking to sell aerial photos I'd simply advertise my business as such. Don't advertise or disclose that you're using a drone. If you get hassled in the field they have no way to prove your commercial intent. If they don't bother you at the field and somehow come across the photos at a later date and for some odd reason want to question you just decline to answer any questions. It would be very hard to get in trouble unless you incriminate yourself, and highly unlikely that they'd set up some sort of "sting" operation on you. If they did start questioning you that would be a good clue to back off.
There are numerous examples of people openly using drones commercially. A private arson investigator was recently in the news talking about it. Apparently a few people have been warned, but AFAIK nobody as yet been fined and there is no real legal precedents I'm aware of. If you're smart enough NOT to have news articles published on what you're doing you probably have nothing to worry about.
Note: IANAL, always obey the law according to your best understanding of it, and weigh the safety of your actions, the potential penalty you would face, and your risk of being charged/fined.
Edit: I would determine the identity of your customers before quoting them a price. If you find out they are a government customer then quote them a price for actual aerial photos from a real plane. You can probably even still use a drone to do the work, just don't show your hand by quoting a ultra lowball price that will make them wonder how you're doing it.
Only government organizations can fly at the moment. Military and universities mostly. Even the police have a hard time getting approval, and when they do get approval it is not what they're looking for. It's really not that fun or useful to have a COA that allows you to operate only certain hours over unoccupied swamp land and only while being in constant communication with the local ATC.
There is no possibility to get a COA unless you're a government organization at the moment AFAIK.
You just have to fly your drone as a RC toy. Stay under 400 feet and maintain visual contact at all times. For most things I can think of this should be just fine.
There are over 700 COA requests submitted as of today, of course many are protected under national security probably over 40% of them so getting the full list is hard to do as many are redacted out of the FOIA lists available because of national security. Public entities are almost entirely Government, local law enforcement, universities and Dept. of Transportation types. But there are many COAs out there currently for police departments and that is a huge area where COAs are being submitted right now. So expect a lot more law enforcement COAs to be approved in the coming months. Of course on the private SAC side (Special Airworthiness Certificates) many are redacted out as well, but there are about 34 SACs in use between say 15 DoD contract companies. So that should tell you everything you need to know, as for FAA knocking on your door if you go commercial. In my area there are many AP guys doing it now for over 7 years, never been called, contacted or even slapped on the hand. So my guess is they are not actively going after people yet, but does that mean they will not in the future NO. Do I think the AMA will handle this sector, nope, will they push to make hobby use only in support of the FAA to make any other use a commercial aspect requiring COA/SAC and all the other hoops to jump through. Most likely yes, does the small guy have a chance at actually getting in this business, that is hard to predict. Right now it does not look good for the small business or single entity to get into this commercially. I hope that changes, but when Aviation kicked off we viewed the same situation over 80 years ago, first a lot of small companies started (prospects if you will) then came the big companies who quickly put them all out of business and consolidated into a few BIG companies. The difference this time is that the BIG companies got in first and the small guys want in, but are being side lined due to FAA and lack of official rulings and laws around it for commercial use of UAVs. Let us all hope they legislate correctly, but I believe unfortunately that is not the way FAA works and so we should all be ready to complain when the time comes to complain. AMA is not going to help us out for those interested in commercial ventures.
Here is the current list of Public COAs - Public COAs
Here is the current list of Private SACs - Private SACs
"If you find out they are a government customer then quote them a price for actual aerial photos from a real plane. You can probably even still use a drone to do the work, just don't show your hand by quoting a ultra lowball price that will make them wonder how you're doing it."
Actually aerial photos are much cheaper then might expect IF you can get them done around the 20th of the month when civil construction projects such a highway jobs require monthly "aerials". Usually about $150 per month for several shots. They are done en-mass along with other jobs in your area so the photographer only needs one mobilization to cover a dozen or more jobs in a couple hours flight time at most.
Rodolfo if your interested in business with gov/civil gov contact me privately, this is an inappropriate forum for that discussion.
As to the disguise of commercial intent, "Professional Hobbyist" such as those who make videos of R/C flight for the purpose of sponsorship from hobby suppliers are no less "disguising their commercial aspect".
I think we should all approach this differently. Unite our voices to say:
The FAA and their blanket prohibition against flying any UAS for profit virtually guarantees that the future of UAS belongs to our friends in countries other than the United States.
15 years from now, when I step into a robotic air-taxi, I want it to be my company's name on the fuselage. How am I to realize my dream when the FAA makes it illegal to profit from aerial robots?
How am I to fund Research and Development, if I cannot make small profits with smaller bots?
I'm not asking for a hand-out, I'm not asking for help, I'm asking to be allowed to fund my own enterprise using the power of market demand. The FAA is crippling innovation in this field. It is not a political issue, it is accidental economic warfare conducted by against our own people.
We need change now, not in 2014, now. The battle for new technology is measured in days not years.
This is my take on it:
Doing this as a business is not "legal" according to the FAA, but at the same time, they really can't do anything to stop it other than writing angry letters. While it is not "legal", it is also not "illegal" meaning there is no possibility of jail time, fines, or even confiscation of equipment. There are lots and lots of guys doing this, but for the most part, they keep their head down. They have web pages, but they don't do a lot of broadcast self-promotion. You'll never see these guys agreeing to be interviewed by CNN. They just keep it local, word of mouth, and just stay on the down low. You also don't see them posting details of jobs within the US, on the internet. The only time you see the FAA get involved is if somebody sticks their head up, gets national media attention, or if somebody else gets involved and just uses the FAA as a tool (ie: Crane Operators Union of L.A.) to shut down this growing field and maintain their monopoly.
I just can't figure out if this situation exists knowingly with the FAA, sort of a nudge-nudge-wink-wing-say-no-more-say-no-more... or if they just don't have the manpower to go after this actively.
At the end of the day, we've seen a few "Cease and Desist" letters, but never any fines or jail time.
For what it's worth, you can actually buy insurance for AP in the US, there is even a company specializing in it.
I imagine you are right in a practical sense. But honest people should not have to keep their heads down in a free society. We need the FAA to open this up.
If there had been a horse and buggy administration, it reminds me of their attempt to say "you can build your own automobile, or even buy one, but you can't charge someone to move their produce from farm to market. Leave that to the professional horse and buggies."
This is ridiculous notion as everyone knows horses run on apples making their fuel to cargo ratio self consuming cycle.
I completely agree. It's similar to the argument that "If owning a gun is criminal, only criminals will own guns." If they make the rules for UAV flying too onerous, or completely ban them, then the only people flying UAV's will be those who are ignoring the rules.
Plus, there's the logical insanity that a hobbyist can fly a UAV, but a professional cannot. That's completely inverted logic. It's like saying that only people who don't have drivers licenses can drive on public roads.
I think the problem is that the FAA cannot come to the realization that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. They are spending so much time trying to figure out how to keep it in the bottle, that they lose more and more ground every day.
You SIR have nailed it in the most laymen of terms. But the FAA none-the-less will continue to try to contain the Genie in the bottle, or at least push him back in for the time being until their friends are well established in the DoD contract side. That is the way it looks, FAA stalling until the BIG boys own the market.....Our gov't at work yet again......the $400 hammer effect all over.....
How much for the Raven, what $60,000 for a skyhawk fuse of Carbon and some nice cameras, hmm....I think we know that could be done for a whole lot less, but let us make the minimum price say $ 20,000 for the dragonfly X6... We all know why this is what it is, problem is our voices are not being heard because we simply do not have enough of them in high enough places to be heard. AMA is not our friends in regards to commercial use, but I do hope they keep the hobby use push going so at least we can use our lovely UAVs and not be completely restricted entirely. As for commercial use it will be be like the days of prohibition - commercial use will happen and unless you get caught, keep doing it. Heck that is the American way isn't it!!! :)
Haha, better analogy than genie... they are trying to push the the toothpaste back into the tube. The longer they try, the bigger the mess gets.
:) yes and the mess will be big. I think what bothers me more is that this industry has the same potential a long with the Space Industry to be a great way to boost global economics. But with the type of mis-management the gov't is doing in these sectors, only awarding to the few instead of the many, they are in fact causing more economic problems then they are solving. It really is ironic......isn't that a song :)