Thursday, 24 March 2016

How to Stay on the Good Side of the FAA: Know Before You Fly

Update: FAA on the Ball

On Tuesday, March 30, 2016, the FAA increased the "blanket" COA from 200 to 400 feet for commercial sUAS pilots. 

Also, as of March 31, 2016, the FAA launched an online registration system for commercial sUAS pilots. Therefore:
  • No more form 8050-1.
  • No more snail mail and waiting to hear if you've been successful or not.
  • And no more paying out hundreds of dollars for companies to assist you with this process.
This is wonderful news

Congratulations to the FAA for making strides in order to regulate the droning environment in the US.

Fad or Mainstay

Camera-equipped drones have gained in popularity, cost and user friendliness beginning in 2007. 

This is facilitated in large part, by the proliferation of smartphones, which led to the development of inexpensive gyroscopes and accelerometers making it possible for the mass-production of capable yet inexpensive autopilots. 

Indeed, the cost of camera-equipped multi-copters are now well within the means of the buying public who want to take aerial videos for a variety of purposes, including, but not limited to: 

  • Journalism.
  • Wildlife observation. 
  • Search-and-rescue operations.
  • Real-estate photography.
  • Law enforcement.
  • First responders.
  • Construction projects.
  • Roofing.
  • Pipeline surveillance.
  • Insurance Assessment.
  • Occasion photography such as weddings, graduations, festivals, other events.
  • Or perhaps plain fun. 

Drone Shopping

But before you rush out and buy a drone, you must, at least, learn enough to know:
  • which features are important;
  • what is safe; and
  • legal to do. 

Governing Authority

As you know, the Federal Aviation Administration - FAA - is the governing body for all American civil aviation protocols.

As a result, restrictions relating to the use of the airspace are implemented to safeguard and protect everyone's privacy.

Whether we agree or disagree with these measures; the rules are the rules and abiding by them help us to have, if not a peaceful, but a less conflicting life.

What would be your reaction if you were on this flight?

Get out of Everyone's Way and Make Sure Nothing Goes Wrong

The US is responsible for approximately 110,000 takeoffs a day. This accounts for roughly 30 percent of worldwide commercial departures and more than 75 percent of the world's aviation. 

Are Drones Dangerous?

Near Misses 

Drone accidents have increased significantly, and the consequences of operating a drone without airspace savvy can be grave.

In 2015, there were more than 650 reported incidents between crewed aircraft and errant drones compared to only 238 in 2014. 

These incidents along with other factors have spurred the FAA into creating the Know Before You Fly Campaign. The campaign sets out to educate the public, businesses and recreational drone pilots.

Rules for Flying Hobbyist or Recreational Drones

Now, owning a drone is awesome, and flying said drone is magical, but there are a few things to know so you and your drone can continue making beautiful moments in one piece. 

You might have gotten your drone for Christmas, saved diligently and or put a lot of time into making it the premiere flying machine, and whack! Your precious whirly bird is diving out of the sky.

I'm sure that that scenario does not appeal to you.

Neither would it be appealing to cause an accident which results in loss of life. 
  • If your drone weighs more than 250 grams (roughly 8.5 oz.) you have to get it registered.
  • Fly below 400 ft so as not to endanger other users.
  • Weigh less than 55 pounds.
  • Fly within your visual line of sight.
  • You need permission to fly within 5 miles of an airport.

Licensing Process

If you want to charge for any services related to flying a drone, you need to apply for a 333 exemption.

However, this 333 exemption has a clause that requires the drone operator to hold a crewed pilot's license.

But applying for a pilot license is neither cheap nor quick. You are looking at nothing less than $10,000, and this takes a few months to complete.  

In order to fly a drone commercially, you are required to have a pilot's license. As it turns out, the cheapest and fastest way to acquire one, is to learn to fly a hot air balloon.

Hot Air Balloon Certification

Now, a ballooning certification can be obtained in less than a month for under $5000. Going with a balloon license as opposed to a plane license is legal in the eyes of the FAA.

A clause in the 333 exemption states: "must hold either an airline transport, commercial, private, recreational or sports pilot certificate." While a ballooning license is not what they had in mind when they drafted the rules, according to this language, a balloon license does make you a certifiable drone operator. 

Similarities and Differences of Piloting a Drone and a Balloon

In ballooning:
  • You have to learn to read the weather.
  • Know the difference between class G and class B airspace.
  • Know the language for communicating with Air Traffic Controllers.
  • Piloting the balloon is more difficult, as it lacks the technology of the drones.
  • Drones are much smaller and lighter while a hot air balloon weighs around 8,000 pounds.

Right Side of the Law 

Many commercial operators fly without a license and assume they won't be caught, but don't be one of those who says, "Screw the rules". It's always better to be on the right side of the law. 

Technology has changed to the point where piloting a drone necessitates regulation.

Over the years, amateur drone users have given drones and droning a bad name. Therefore, learning about airspace deconfliction and classification, and meteorology is relevant to droning. 

Also, based on the current rules of the FAA, a pilot's license is not only required to fly a commercial drone but one that is current. This means a pilot must fly a minimum of three flights every 90 days.

No Fly Zones

Like parks that have clear markers to indicate paths for cycling, jogging, hiking and where you can have a picnic, some states have gone as far as to designating droning areas. 

No Fly Map App

The FAA is continually working to make droning as pain-free as possible.

As a result, they have a B4UFly map App in both App Store for iOS and Google Play Store for Android to help you.

There are numerous drone No Fly map apps available. 


After the FAA has updated all its rules and bylaws your hard earned ballooning certificate may seem like a waste.

It's not.

You've learned a new and valuable skill. Why not capitalize on it and create another line of business for yourself.

Or, just do it for the sheer pleasure and join a club. 

• Stay out of no-fly zones such as military bases, national parks, and the airport.
• Fly below 400 ft.
• Register your drone.
• And get your pilot license.
It's time we make drones an asset instead of a liability. 

Over to You

In your neck of the woods, are there any designated areas for you to fly? Share them with us. You never know who never knew.

What are your best practices when droning and how will you capitalize on your freshly minted balloon license?

What's your response to the FAA's move? Please feel free to leave a comment.

Most importantly, fly safely.

No comments:

Post a Comment