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: knowbeforeyoufly.org for more details or contact Bon Air Drone.

– Madison King