Flying a drone as a hobby is undoubtedly cool but unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can also be used to do a range of practical and useful things.
Aerial photography is one of the most popular options and the reason why there are so many drones with cameras, or drones compatible with GoPro, capable of shooting high quality pictures and video.
Want to turn aerial photography and videography into a business? Interested in creating clips or offering freelance services? If so, you’ll need to complete a very important first step that involves getting acquainted with national drone photography laws.
In order to operate a drone for any business purposes (to make money) in the United States you will need a license.
This is called a Remote Pilot Certificate.
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If you live in the US and plan to fly a drone in the country, that weigh 0.55 pounds or more, you’ll have to get the piece registered. FAA launched the registration system as an opportunity for dealing with the numerous violations that have taken place over the past few years.
There isn’t anything particularly difficult or challenging about getting the UAV registered. The procedure is going to cost you five dollars. Keep the following thing in mind – if you’re caught piloting a drone that isn’t registered, you’ll be subjected to a fine that can reach as much as 27,500 dollars.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Small Unmanned Aircraft System Registration Service is the one responsible for the procedure. The rules apply for unmanned aerial vehicles that weigh 0.55 pounds or more.
All of the registered drones receive a unique identification number. A single number can be used by one pilot, regardless of the number of drones that the person owns. The only requirement is for the drones to be physically marked with the number (for example, having it printed on the side of the drone or simply putting the number on the UAV with a permanent marker).
Drone Photography Laws in the US
Keep in mind that there is a clear distinction between the hobby use and the commercial use of drones in the US. Although FAA claims that it’s predominantly concerned about safety, the distinction being made has led some people to a different conclusion.
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Taking photographs for personal use is considered an acceptable activity. Being a realtor and using a commercial drone with camera to photograph a property that’s about to be announced for sale is considered commercial use.
People that want to fly a drone commercially will have to apply for the so-called Section 333 Exemption. It’s a lengthy process and there’s definitely some risk of getting rejected. Companies that are serious about getting the permission to use a drone commercially will usually depend on legal representation to make their case. The good thing is that numerous businesses have already gotten their permit to use a drone commercially.
As you can see, FAA works on a per-case basis. According to January 2016 data published on the FAA website, 3,662 petitions have been granted so far. Because of the serious interest and the big number of applications being received, the process has become even slower nowadays. FAA warns about some serious delays.
Keep in mind that the exemptions are provided with conditions and limitations. Thus, businesses can’t use their commercial drones for any purpose that they deem appropriate. This is yet another reason why getting legal representation and being thorough during the application process will be so important.
A Few Additional Things to Keep in Mind
Apart from needing a special permit, companies that own a drone and intend to use it for commercial purposes will also have to adhere to a range of safety guidelines established by FAA.
The common requirements that all of the drone pilots have to follow include:
- Keeping the flight height below 400 feet AGL (above ground level)
- Flying the drone within an area that’s located at least three miles away from an airport or a landing strip
- Keeping the drone within the pilot’s sight at any given time during the flight
- Keeping the drone away from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) zones, as well as from temporary flight restriction zones
- Adhering to flight safety rules (keeping the drone away from wildlife, buildings and pedestrians)
- Respect all the no-fly zones. You can see a map of no-fly zones here.
In essence, pilots have to use common sense throughout the process to reduce the risk of accidents or serious violations. The problem stems from the fact that many people aren’t aware about these limitations or they simply don’t care. The resulting accidents have forced FAA to impose some limitations and get started with the registration procedure mentioned in the beginning of the article.
Local Drone Photography Laws and Regulations
National regulations are one thing, local regulations are something completely different.
If you’re in the US and you intend to use a camera drone for commercial photography, you may want to take a look at the state regulations. In 2013, 30 of the states tried to pass regulations against the commercial use of drones. So far, they’ve failed to regulate the field but having some idea about the local rules is certainly a good thing.
The same applies to potential commercial drone photographers that live in other countries. Though many places are only getting started with drone regulations, there are some governments already regulating the use of commercial drones.
Don’t know how to get started on your own? Are you worried that your operations could potentially lead to some penalties? Take some time to do your research about local regulations and even talk to an attorney before establishing your business. It’s better to be on the safe side and you’ve already seen that some of the fines could be quite severe. Having a good idea about the regulations will give you peace of mind and enable you to focus on the activities that you’re passionate about.
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