For us in the film, television and digital storytelling industry, drones have provided an exciting new way to tell our stories. They have provided us new vantage points that were unthinkable a few years ago. In our last article (written for the OMPA), we talked about hiring the right drone pilot and some of the regulatory requirements. Today we’ll talk about some of the regulations you should be aware of and some that we should expect out of the FAA in the near future. Regulations may bring tears to our eyes or elicit big yawns, but believe me, they can be exciting.
To baseline everyone, all drone operators must have either a Part 107 certificate (license) or a 333 exemption from the FAA to fly drones commercially. Almost all commercial operations are done under Part 107 as 333 exemptions are not as common anymore.
One of the more interesting and overlooked aspects of Part 107 is that you can operate a drone from a moving vehicle as long as it is done so in a sparsely populated area and is kept within visual line of sight. For those who film car commercials, this can be a boon as you can cover a lot more distance without losing visual line of sight of the drone. If you wish to control a drone from a moving vehicle in a populated environment, you will need to submit a waiver application to the FAA.
Another important regulation under Part 107 is that you can fly up to 400 feet above any man-made structure as long as you remain within 400 feet of the structure. So, if there is a building that is 300 feet high, you can go up to 700 feet as long as you stay within 400 feet of the building. However, you must still adhere to altitude limits in controlled airspace and separation requirements from clouds though both of these can be waived by the FAA through an approval process.
One common waiver you can apply for is the “daylight waiver” which allows a remote pilot to fly at night. Your application needs to be fairly comprehensive and will need to outline how you will maintain safety. One of the requirements is to have a trained visual observer who understands the requirements of flying at night and knows how to overcome night illusions. If you get a daylight waiver, the real fun starts when you start taking interesting night shots of cities or putting high intensity lights on a drone.
One of the most sought-after waivers for those in our industry is getting a waiver for flying directly over unprotected persons not directly involved in an operation. People directly involved means the pilot, visual observer, and camera operator. Directly over means directly over a person’s body. This includes people that are inside moving vehicles. To date, less than 5 applications out of thousands have been approved. There is the possibility that we will see FAA guidance in the very near future, hopefully the beginning of May, outlining the operational and equipment requirements to allow flight over unprotected persons. Industry insiders have indicated that a ballistic parachute will be one of the requirements.
Another big piece of news is that LAANC (pronounced lance) is anticipated to launch in Oregon in May subject to FAA timing. LAANC is the low altitude authorization and notification capability that will allow for nearly instantaneous authorization to fly in controlled airspace subject to altitude limits outlined in FAA maps and normal 107 restrictions. PDX is one airport scheduled to be part of LAANC. Skyward, one of our local Portland companies is an official LAANC provider. A list of Oregon airports coming online can be found here. This will make flying in controlled airspace in Oregon much less painful.
As you can see, there are plenty of things that can be done with drones, but in some cases, you need the right waivers and authorizations. If you are a pilot or you are hiring a pilot and want these types of shots, make sure that you play by the rules otherwise you may not be covered by insurance or you may be fined by the FAA. Finally, remember that everyone who flies commercially must have their Part 107 certificate.
About Kenji Sugahara:
Kenji is a long-time drone pilot, lawyer, and a national drone policy expert with more than five years of flying experience. He specializes in high end drone work, was part of a 2017 FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee, and helps advise state agencies on drone policy. You can see his work at http://www.dronescape.tv