The Hottest New Business Tool Is … Drones?




Drone usage has been a hot topic lately, and it is clear to see why. Unmanned aircrafts could potentially be a game changing technology for a wide array of industries ranging from construction to real estate to film. However, one major obstacle is in the way for commercial drone users — a ban by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

For recreational drone users, the ban does not apply. Instead recreational drone pilots will need to simply register their aircrafts by February 16, 2016 or face penalties of up to $250,000 and three years in jail. Hobbyist registration costs $5 and will result in a Proof of Ownership certificate with unique serial numbers that must be displayed on the aircraft.

However, if you are one of the many, many businesses that see drones as a great opportunity for your business, this ban applies to you. The ban unfortunately has some interesting implications for businesses and drone hobbyists. This means that even if you love drones in your free time you cannot use them for any commercial use, even if no money changes hands. This implication also makes YouTube and other social networks a banned area for drone videos, pictures, and other products because of the displayed advertisements. Have you ever seen a YouTube video of a great backyard party? That video would fall under the ban and could lead to a cease and desist order. Nonetheless, many hobbyists do this and many companies even use commercial drones and take the risk that they may be caught, be sent a cease and desist letter, or be fined heavily.

Other than filming wild parties, drones have hundreds of valuable uses. Did you know that drones can be used to flag construction that doesn’t match design plans? For private security? For farmers to check on the status of their crops? Real estate sales? Photography? Videography? Land surveying? It is also important to note is that the use of drones is much safer and cost effective than the use of helicopters, especially for filming purposes.

With all these valuable uses, why are commercial drones banned in the first place? The answer is complicated and the FAA struggled with setting guidelines and regulations for their use for a long time. In fact, in 2013 the FAA set a deadline for regulations to be set by 2015. The newness of the technology made for a difficult process in setting regulations because the use of drones was highly uncharted territory. In the past, aside from military applications, the use of drones was very rare. Privacy issues were also a concern for the FAA as photographs could be taken of otherwise private situations without consent.

So what should you do if you are a company that could benefit from the use of drones but you don’t want to risk a hefty fine? The FAA offers exemptions for commercial drone use. In order to get a full exemption, you need the following:

  • Section 333 Grant of Exemption
  • Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA)
  • Aircraft registered with the FAA
  • Human pilot with an FAA airman certification

Fortunately, the cost to get an exemption is reasonable. The Section 333 Grant of Exemption is free, but usually takes around 120 days. However, the aircraft registration does come with a nominal fee. Also, this form must come from an Aircraft Registration Branch, and cannot be downloaded, photocopied, or otherwise computer generated.

Recently, an increasing number of businesses are being granted exemptions and the number is expected to rise to around ten thousand businesses by 2018. Additionally, a variety of drone brokerage service firms are surfacing, putting their Section 333 Grants of Exemption to good use. In the coming years we can all expect to see an increase in the drone economy including drone brokerage and consulting. Drones are now being used extensively in real estate, land surveying, civil engineering, and construction. Drone use will increase dramatically in a variety of other industries as well, which begs the questions, what will be the hot new use for drones in the future?

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