When searching the Internet for drones, thousands of pictures and videos of beautiful landscapes and amazing homes around the world pop up that show off the incredible photography capabilities that many drones posses. These uses are great- but what else can these amazing machines do or help us to do better?

One answer: aerial mapping and surveying

When you think of aerial and mapping and surveying, what do you think of? Fixed wing aircraft, large equipment, and multi person crews along the road might be some images that come to mind.

Because of the large equipment and aircraft, most people also associate aerial mapping and photography with grander scale projects since it would not be cost compatible to use the large equipment for a small project or area. These larger projects therefore have a great cost and time expense included – two very valuable resources.

So where do small buisnesses needing to save money go? That was the golden question until now…

With emerging drone technology, the possibilities are endless for aerial surveying and mapping- because of three main improvements that the use of drones bring:


When compared to traditional aircraft used in aerial mapping and surveying, like planes and helicopters, drones are much less expensive to operate and maintain.

Since these drones are battery operated, maintenance is therefore dramatically reduced.

Because all of these operational costs are reduced, the majority of the price that is paid for is the manpower needed to capture the data and then transform that data into useable media via very specific, and often complicated, software.


Since drones are very small and lightweight- they are easier to maneuver in a variety of directions, heights, and turns. This makes it much easier to capture every angle of a project in a much shorter time than would originally be needed to maneuver a large aircraft or crew members in dangerous or difficult to reach areas. By using drones instead of manpower on those harder to maneuver projects, it also brings a level of safety to projects


Drones are capable of including many different styles of cameras and software, which allows surveyors to capture the exact details of the particular landscape they are surveying. This could include 3D imagery, contour lines, topographic lines and volumetric calculations.

These 3 main components make drone use much more available and compatible for any person or business who wishes to use any extent of aerial mapping and surveying- without the limitations of traditional surveying.

For smaller projects- the price and time match the size of the project, you wont be paying for wasted machinery that was unnecessary.

For larger projects- the costs will drastically be reduced all while giving you detailed and useable information, and who doesn’t love that?

Aerial mapping and surveying using drones requires a great amount of skill and attention to detail but does not require of time or money- so with the right team of expert drone operators and surveyors, your projects will benefit greatly.

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Latest Surveying Equipment
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With the increasingly popularity and availability- over 1 million drones sold in 2015 alone- legal technicalities regarding commercial drone (also called UAS- unmanned aircraft systems) use are becoming a major issue.

“In 2016 at least 45 states have considered drone laws.”
Says The National Congress of State Legislators.

Thinking about buying a drone?

First and foremost, in order to own and operate a drone, all owners must be registered with the FAA.

Failing to register your drone could result in a civil penalty up to $26,500 or criminal penalties up to $250,000 and 3 years in prision- yikes.

So, what are you planning on doing with your drone?

Many, and most people, are buying drones to for their personal use, a great way to spend a weekend afternoon… But what are they then doing with the media that is obtained from the drone?

Chances are if you don’t have a special exemption (Section 333) from the FAA, what you are doing with your media could be illegal.

Basically, if you are somehow profiting off of the media obtained by your drone, it is considered commercial use. Sounds simple enough, but things can get tricky…

To break it down, there are 3 common misconceptions about what is and what is not commercial drone use:

  1. If I am selling my drone obtained media as a supplementary income in addition to your main job (like occasional wedding photography on the weekends) it’s still just media from a hobby and does not count as commercial use.

    • Plain and simple, if you are making money, in any form, off of the media obtained by your drone, it is considered commercial and therefore requires a Section 333 exemption to use.

  2. If I don’t personally make money off of the media captured with my drone, it doesn’t count as commercial use.

    • Nope, not quite.

      Say you take an awesome video with your personal drone of scenery on the Blue Ridge Parkway and want to upload it to your YouTube channel, harmless right?

      Well remember that annoying 30 second ad that played right before your video? That equates to money being made for someone.

      And it doesn’t matter who is making the money

      Because profit is made, therefore your drone video counts as commercial use.

      And if you think the FAA would never see it, ask Raphael Pirker.

  3. If I am using my drone and the media obtained to enhance a current business and not making money directly from the drone media, it does not count as commercial use.

    • Say you have a independent construction company and decide that when you are giving quotes to customers for roof repairs, you could save time and man power by sending a drone up to assess the roof and damages.

      Money is not being made directly from the drone use because you will still use a person to repair the roof, so not commercial…right? Wrong.

      Since the drone media is related to a business and involved someway in the operation of that business, it is connected to all of the income made from your construction business and therefore also requires a Section 333 exemption.

Okay, so now you know you need a 333 exemption to use your drone commercially.

But wait, what exactly is a 333 exemption, how do I get one, and what does it allow?

A Section 333 Exemption is a special exemption that can be granted by the FAA to allow individuals and business to operate their drone under commercial use.

These exemptions are granted on a case-by-case basis, so what they allow for are often very specific to the individual requests.

In order to obtain a Section 333 exemption, a petition for exemption must be filed (takes up to 120 days).

Additionally, order to obtain a Section 333 exemption, the pilot of the drone (UAS) must have an FAA airman certificate as well as wither an airline transport, commercial, private, recreational, or sport pilot certificate.

Overall, in order to fly your drone for:

Hobby/Recreational use – have your drone registered and be aware and educated on all of the federal, state, and local restrictions on where and when you can and cannot fly your drone.

Commercial use – Have a Section 333 exemption, be a registered pilot, and be aware and educated on all of the federal, state, and local restrictions on where and when you can and cannot fly your drone.

All of this seems simple enough on paper, but before buying a drone, it is imperative that potential owners make themselves aware of the laws, restrictions and added costs that come along with operating your drone safely and legally.

Visit: for more details or contact Bon Air Drone.

– Madison King