About Legal Commercial UAS Operation
Drones, or "Unmanned Aerial Systems" in FAA parlance, are incredibly advanced, remotely operated, highly controllable, camera, sensor or delivery platforms that are revolutionizing many different industries. A quality "entry-level" UAS from leading manufacturers costs an average of $1,500.00 and the price of this equipment rapidly climbs to tens of thousands of dollars when considering "enterprise" or "commercial" level systems, their payloads and their supporting equipment. Yet all obviously have one thing in common- they all have to overcome gravity for the relatively short time period that their on-board batteries allow.
In order to operate commercially- fly a UAS and get paid for it, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that the operator be certified under Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. Certification under these regulations at the time of this writing. cover general, basic, safe operations of the UAS itself, and pertinent rules under this regulation that includes understanding of U.S. Airspace types, their boundaries and restrictions. There are many ways for non-pilots to study for this test- fee-based ground schools are growing in popularity. Ultimately, a test is taken for another fee, and the test has to be passed with a 100% passing grade.
Licensed aircraft "Pilots" have to take the same test, but do not require training. Their prior training and experience as a pilot- far greater and more in-depth than needed for UAS operation as one would assume, allows them to view a brief online review of the regulations pertinent to UAS operation, and take the test at no cost.
Some thirty to ninety days, and after paying yet another small fee, an FAA "Remote Pilot" license card is mailed to the applicant, and she or he can legally now legally fly a UAS for profit. The card looks like the following, and assures you as the customer your chosen UAS operator is properly licensed for commercial UAS operation- I urge you to DEMAND to see it, there should be no qualms from the operator to show it to you;
The very serious responsibility of commercial UAS operation
As a licensed "Pilot" of general aviation aircraft for thirty years, I fully understand the safety issues surrounding the commercial operations of UAS. As capable as these advanced systems are, it is not enough to operate legally, one must operate safely. Not doing so could result in the injury to the general public, and guarantee extreme legal and financial liability for the operator AND their clients. As evidence, let me outline several facts and incidents.
Common UAS involved with photography, videography and aerial mapping weigh at least 1.6 pounds (DJI Mavic series), and routinely weigh 3.5 pounds (DJI Phantom series), each with four motors and propellers. For Acuity9 UAS operations, I have chosen a larger, six motor/propeller Yuneec H480 series UAS that offers in-flight motor/propeller failure redundancy that will keep it flying it it loses a motor or propeller, unlike the smaller DJI systems. Four motor/propeller UAS will fall from the sky if they lose a motor or propeller, and this happens. This extra redundancy of six motors compared to four raises the weight of the Acuity9 UAS to 4.5 pounds. Enterprise UAS can weigh up to 35 pounds, with an FAA ultimate weight limit of 55 pounds.
Now, watch as a 2-3 pound Herring Gull meets up in flight with a Piper Saratoga over Fort Myers, Florida- you might want to fast-forward to 1:40...
The single engine Piper aircraft looks to be at one-thousand feet above the ground, traveling at nearly 150 knots- that is over 170 mph, and a 3 pound bird went through the wind screen and resulted in a "May-Day" call from the pilot and an emergency landing. The pilot was very lucky.
Now, watch this video of tests and incidents regarding UAS operation, including aircraft strike testing using a DJI Phantom series model;
I'll let you do further research on YouTube- it is full of irresponsible UAS operators. Yes, UAS operations are restricted to 400 feet in altitude, with an additional 400 feet in the case of a structure, but UAS systems also have become uncontrollable- known as "Fly-Aways", something also covered in YouTube videos and Internet forums.
Other recent incidents around the globe you may have heard of are that Heathrow Airport in London was shut down entirely for several days because of "drone incursions"- the irresponsible and possibly intentional flying of UAS near the airport, resulting in thousands of stranded passengers and millions of dollars of lost airline revenue. And as I write this, today, the same thing happened in Dubai.
My personal thoughts are that eventually, one of these $1,500.00 advanced, three-pound, electronic and plastic flying devices operated by unknowing and irresponsible operators will result in utter tragedy. Sadly, I am convinced of it. I attended a symposium at Tampa International Airport hosted by the FAA, attended by over one-hundred local, licensed UAS operators. It was an open forum, and I am happy to report that the over-whelming majority were aircraft pilots such as myself. Yet, the main concern of those of us were how the FAA was controlling unlicensed and irresponsible UAS operators, and it was clear that the FAA had no answer other than "Punitive fines and actions". These are only reactionary measures. They have no plan for control- yet.
The point I want to communicate is that unfortunately, we live in a very litigious society, and as a potential customer, I want you to understand I am not only a professional photographer, I have been in the aviation community as a pilot for over thirty years, and understand the safe, legal and liability-insured operations of redundantly designed equipment that other UAS operators are only learning about, or may never experience at all. In this respect, Acuity9 offers a real value for your business, and I would like the opportunity to serve you. But only you can make the decision on which operator you choose- I urge you to choose wisely, for all of us.