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December 11, 2014

by Robert Hardy, nofilmschool

FAA Drone Regulations - Pilot's License

For the past few years, drone professionals and enthusiasts alike have been awaiting a new set of regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration. Unfortunately, new information about the proposed regulations point towards filmmakers being incredibly unhappy with the FAA in the very near future.

In a report that first appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week, Jack Nicas and Andy Pasztor unveiled the FAA’s proposed plans, which include some sensible regulations, such as limiting drone flight to daytime hours only, limiting altitude to 400 feet or less, and requiring that the UAV be in sight of the pilot at all times. However, the major blow to filmmakers — and anybody else looking to take advantage of the ubiquitous and inexpensive drone technology that has flooded the market of late — is that the FAA is likely going to require drone pilots to be licensed to fly manned aircraft, a process that requires dozens upon dozens of hours of training.

The main distinction to make here is between commercial and non-commercial uses. For hobbyists who have a drone and like to fly it around their backyard, these proposed regulations likely won’t have much impact. However, for filmmakers who make a living through drone videography, or at least leverage drone technology for commercial purposes in some way, these regulations could very well make their lives incredibly difficult, especially if they’re strictly enforced.

faa allows drone film production commercial use
Photo Credit: Helicam

Another interesting distinction in the proposed FAA regulations comes with their weight classifications. The agency is said to be grouping all drones weighing less than 55 pounds into one category under which this set of regulations will apply. That means that the professional and high-end drones which carry larger payloads, and which therefore pose more of a threat to public safety, will be regulated the same as drones like the DJI Phantom II, which comes in at a weight of under 3 pounds.

It seems like we can all agree that some measure of professional and certifiable training is in order for people who fly drones professionally. Obviously public and personal safety can be threatened by these aerial drones without the proper precautions. But to require drone pilots to be licensed to pilot manned aircraft is perhaps one of the most laughable and arbitrary things that the FAA could have done. As Bryant Frazer over at Studio Daily so eloquently put it:

That’s a little like making a 16-year-old become licensed to operate an 18-wheeler before being allowed to tool around town in a Honda Civic.

At this point, these proposed regulations are just that: proposals. That means that, for the time being, you can still go fly your drone over a wedding and make a few bucks off of it without needing a pilot’s license. However, don’t expect that unbridled freedom to last long.      

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