December 1, 2014

The FAA Wants You to Get a Pilot's License Before Operating a Drone (No, Seriously)

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
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.      

Your Comment

42 Comments

As a licensed pilot, I have two reactions. 1) This makes zero sense. 2) Haha, suckers!

December 1, 2014 at 9:35PM

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Yeah, it's an interesting situation. In this industry it's getting easier and easier for anyone to do a lot of this stuff themselves and drone footage is becoming a novelty like time-lapse and slow motion. But on one hand I could see how this would be a great advantage for the people who really take this seriously and have already invested a lot of time and money into their craft and run a legit business that provides services to other legit businesses. If a corporation can only get a licensed drone operator, then they will have to pay whatever the rate, no lowballing college interns to do the work.

On the other hand, is this law going to really matter? Will the FCC be watching every video made and asking for documentation for all drone footage? Will they just single people out like the RIAA and make examples of a few people?

How many of you go out and shoot in public without permits?

Just like a lot of other laws out there, this will only hurt the law abiding people. These laws will do nothing to prevent people from continuing to fly drones near airports or other inappropriate actions. Even if they are able to apprehend your drone, how will they find you if you're really far away?

http://i.ytimg.com/vi/hk8_QomqSt4/0.jpg

December 1, 2014 at 9:53PM

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Julian Faras
Editor, Cinematographer, Director
388

Pretty sure the FCC isn't going to care. The FAA on the other hand ...

December 1, 2014 at 10:11PM

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William Streeter
Filmmaker
193

Oops, yeah, I meant FAA, I don't know what I was thinking.

December 2, 2014 at 4:32AM

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Julian Faras
Editor, Cinematographer, Director
388

It makes no sense but if it allows you to fly commercially then I think it's worth it. Really nonsensical though. Like taking drivers ed to learn how to ride a bicycle.

December 1, 2014 at 9:51PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2647

In Denver, most of our cyclists could really use a trip to driver's ed since they're legally classified as motor vehicles and we have to share the road with them haha.

Still though, this particular regulation makes no sense. There needs to be some kind of specialized certification, but it needs to be specifically applicable to drone piloting, which this regulation definitely is not.

December 1, 2014 at 10:17PM

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Robert Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker's Process
4299

Even with the requirement to have a manned pilots license it's still less restrictive than the regulation for commercial use that exists now, which doesn't allow ANY commercial drone flights at all.

December 1, 2014 at 10:13PM, Edited December 1, 10:13PM

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William Streeter
Filmmaker
193

This is one of those laws that people need to just ignore. If enough people ignore it, it becomes virtually unenforceable. On small-scale productions, it will NOT be hard to avoid getting caught. On bigger productions, it'll be much easier to obey the (nonsensical law). At least until it can get overturned like it needs to be.

December 1, 2014 at 11:02PM

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David West
Writer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor
745

As mentioned in these comments, easy access to slow-mo, time lapse and now aerial videography quickly makes these techniques obsequious and uninteresting. The basic rule for good film making remains the same: Tell a good story. You can't buy that at B&H... Ya gotta learn it!

December 1, 2014 at 11:18PM

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Ron Fent
Producer/President
105

While I think this is very very stupid of the FAA to ask this for remote controlled devices. Years ago my company Atmosphere Aerial thought this may happen and we have become FAA licensed pilots so we are ready for something like this. AtmosphereAerial.com

December 2, 2014 at 12:35AM

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I was going to send this link to Paul Charbonnet, but he seems to be on top of things and already in the chat.

December 3, 2014 at 3:59PM

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This is how we roll in Australia - and it has some pros and cons.

For one thing, it keeps the market a bit clear for legitimate professionals. Sure, there are cowboys who break the law, but they get fined into a hole in the ground. But you can be sure that anyone operating legally takes it heaps more seriously, since it's cost them a lot of time and money to get into the game.

On the other hand, the art is suffering, since the stack of regulations around actually drone shots means most of the coolest shots are incredibly illegal. CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) does a good job, though, in trying to be reasonable in so far as people are being safe and smart about stuff.

December 2, 2014 at 12:40AM

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Jared Adamo
Creative Director / Producer
184

I want to see a guy crash a $200 drone, then FAA shows up and strips him of his pilot's license. I will die happy and know that God loves a good gag.

December 2, 2014 at 1:51AM

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Actually it's not quite the same in Australia. Yes we require a licence, but not a 'manned' license. The proposed FAA law is for a 'manned' license which means you actually need to get in a plane and learn to fly the thing. In Australia, we just need to study and take a test (there is a little more to it than that), which does include flying a UAV, but not an actual plane. Still costs us around $8000 to do it though.

December 4, 2014 at 9:03PM

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Jared Bell
DOP / Editor / Everything
81

It's really unfortunate that they will require this, but we have been following this whole ordeal from 2008 and are not surprised.

This is a blow to small businesses like us, who build and sell UAS aircraft, but also to those that are offering aerial services (pilots). The good news is that at least you may be able to fly commercially if you get a pilots license, but my concern is if you have to go through the same physical exam requirements that are in order to fly a full scale aircraft, which would be ridiculous if it's required for UAS. Other than that would be the cost, which may just be too expensive, but then again you may not have much competition. :-D

What we need instead is a commercial license that applies to UAS aircraft owners. Flying a full scale aircraft is completely different from flying an rc multicopter, similar yes, but not on the same category, hence why we need different certifications for each process.

The FAA won't have to enforce much, the enforcement will come from regular citizens, the ones who believe everything the media tells them about drones and other things, they will be the calling and reporting other law abiding citizens. I believe this is how the enforcement of the law will come from.

For our sakes I hope I'm very wrong though!

December 2, 2014 at 12:50AM

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J. Fandino
Drone sales at www.providentialsystems.com
182

Yeah, it's a little silly, but at least it's a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the FAA will come to its senses and realize a manned pilot's license is not the same as RC flight.

December 2, 2014 at 2:12AM

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Tom Holton
UAS Specialist
265

I agree Tom, I'm too hoping it won't be a too difficult, but it's still too early to tell anyways, perhaps they may not require a manned private pilots license, I hope they don't! :D

December 3, 2014 at 12:39AM

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J. Fandino
Drone sales at www.providentialsystems.com
182

Maybe the FAA should consider drone pilots to attain a Ground School Certificate instead of the full license.

December 3, 2014 at 8:02PM

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George Nelson
Director / Cinematographer
231

That's what I want to see. I just want drone operators to know what is going on above them. If there is simple a basic course to keep drones out of used air space that would be very beneficial.

December 4, 2014 at 7:21PM

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It's like needing scuba certification to take a bath. It's like requiring a food handlers card to make cereal. It's mostly looking like people who operate quad-copters are going to have a great excuse to charge a lot more money for those easy-peasy shots we all like.

December 2, 2014 at 2:13AM

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Yancy
116

"a process that requires dozens upon dozens of hours of training"
yeah, and dozens upon dozens of bills of dollars

December 2, 2014 at 2:53AM

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John Morse
Producer + Director
2415

Which falls faster a 5 pound drone or a fifty pound one? Wait until the production insurance companies get involved, the money spent on training will seem trivial by comparison.

December 2, 2014 at 3:10AM

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Howard Roll
Boss
209

Sorry but this is Wrong: FAA has NOT committed to/nor indicated that this will be the case. Actually, they've done NOTHING, other than chase after a reckless foam fixed wing pilot to date and send out some C&Ds to realtors which were unenforceable and illegal! Please read up, and KEEP CALM: http://provideocoalition.com/jfoster/story/drone-law-update-FAA

December 2, 2014 at 3:28AM

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Jeff Foster
Author/Producer - Adobe Community Professional
21

As a licensed commercial pilot, some of these things make sense and others don't.

Even in manned aircraft there is a HUGE difference between flying for yourself and flying commercially. Your level of responsibility is much higher when you are hiring your service out.

Also, if you fly at the maximum 400 feet, even the 3lb DJI (which can reach that height) falling from that height it would impact with anywhere from 500-2000lb of force. Quite enough to do damage. And the argument "everyone is using them" actually makes it more likely that an accident could occur, not less.

I personally thing there should be some sort of certification, but to say that it needs to be manned training is ridiculous.

December 2, 2014 at 5:51AM

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Crazy regulations, don t obey. It is a free country.

December 2, 2014 at 7:49AM

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How many of you guys whining about this potential ruling actually have liability insurance for your photography business? Or, are you just 'winging' it with a very dangerous piece of machinery, hoping nothing bad happens?

December 2, 2014 at 10:49AM, Edited December 2, 10:49AM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
1131

Richard, unfortunately when it comes to insurance for aerial applications (UAS, drones etc) there's only few options, afaik.

Hill&Usher being one of the few insurance companies that have provided commercial liability insurance for aerial applications for several years now. There may be others, but it's difficult to get insurance when the FAA claims operators are in the wrong side of the law when operating "drones", even though it's just a policy.

Also please check rcapa.net, they have been helping small AP/AV business owners since 2004, they have over 2000 members currently, and it's the closest thing to an AOPA (Aircraft Owners And Pilots Association) we could have for UAS operators.

Cheers

December 3, 2014 at 12:50AM

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J. Fandino
Drone sales at www.providentialsystems.com
182

Richard, unfortunately when it comes to insurance for aerial applications (UAS, drones etc) there's only few options, afaik.

Hill&Usher being one of the few insurance companies that have provided commercial liability insurance for aerial applications for several years now. There may be others, but it's difficult to get insurance when the FAA claims operators are in the wrong side of the law when operating "drones", even though it's just a policy.

Also please check rcapa.net, they have been helping small AP/AV business owners since 2004, they have over 2000 members currently, and it's the closest thing to an AOPA (Aircraft Owners And Pilots Association) we could have for UAS operators.

Cheers

December 3, 2014 at 12:51AM

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J. Fandino
Drone sales at www.providentialsystems.com
182

It's like that in France. I have, for using a drone professionaly, to get the theorical part of private pilot license. I also have to obtain a skill competence claim that prove I'm able to safely pilot a drone.
My drone have to respect some "scenario" defined by our regulator(the french equivalent of your FAA), based on weight and urban or not place to fly. Away from humans or animals, my drone mtow must be under 8 kgs. It does never go more than 100 meters away horyzontaly and 150 meters verticaly, and always visible. Near humans or animals, the mtow must be under 2 kgs (or 4 with a parachute).
My drone also need to obtain an approval from the regulator after giving them all the technical informations and flying procedures I use. Without it, no way...
And, last but not least, I have to respect all the flying rules, CTR, P and R zones, TRA, TSA, etc, etc.
But, at the end of the day, even with these stricts regulations, France is one of the most active pro market for drone in the world. And a very safe one for all the aerial users and plane passengers.

December 3, 2014 at 6:38PM

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"...a process that requires dozens upon dozens of hours of training."

And thousands upon thousands of dollars in flight time with an instructor in a light plane. Let me officially go on record as saying "Fuck that shit." Someday I'd like to get my license (I've got 5.5 hours towards it, earned 30 years ago, big deal), but now is not the time.

December 4, 2014 at 3:30PM

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What's really important here is which class of licence the FAA will require, it's possible they will create a drone flying course. Because flying a Cessna is nothing like flying a drone, but more importantly is the distinction between 'private' and 'commercial' pilot. A private pilot can have passengers, but cannot under any circumstance be paid to fly anywhere, and yes they check. So if a professional paid drone operator requires a commercial license for working and getting paid, this is troublesome, I've met people who quit their job and took out a second mortgage on their home to both afford and have time to attain a commercial licence. A private on the other hand takes 20+ hours of flight training and will cost roughly $12,000-$18,000 last time I checked, or less than the cost of a red epic.

So. There's that.

December 4, 2014 at 3:34PM

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Private will take 45-60 hours and about 10 grand. There are lesser licenses such as the sport pilot which take 20 hours.

December 4, 2014 at 7:15PM

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What are other countries doing in this respect?

December 4, 2014 at 3:37PM

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Alberto
Creative Director
81

France, as explained upper.

December 5, 2014 at 6:03PM

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An airplane crashed in someones backyard in Richmond Indiana two weeks ago, I wonder if they would have rather had a drone crash into their backyard or an airplane? The FAA needs to focus on keeping air travel safe and prevent another 911 disaster and quit worrying about drones, there are already effective laws in place that deal with unmanned aircraft without these draconian laws that are a laughable. The FAA strong-armed the Real Estate industry from using drones to capture pictures and video which is another example of their aggressive over-reach.

December 4, 2014 at 4:09PM

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David Robillard
Photographer/Videographer
21

I'm a pilot of manned aircraft. I don't want to have to use my emergency maneuvering skills to miss running into a drone that has no pilot on board. I think that is the spirit of the problem all agencies are trying to solve. In the world of manned aircraft, the bigger, faster, and higher they go, the more ratings you have to attach to your basic license to be the pilot. This is a system that has worked well over the years and it is not unreasonable for drone pilots to be subjected to the same system.

Should they be required to have the same license as those who fly manned aircraft? No, just like you don't need a 747 type rating to fly a Cessna 172. Should they have the same knowledge and be able to demonstrate the same level of skill, you-bet-ya, just with the vehicle they will be piloting.

How about this FAA - An Unmanned Drone license where the applicant takes a written test on the rules that apply to their vehicle and a practical test the proves they can operate it within a specified tolerance?

December 4, 2014 at 5:43PM

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I understand the valid concern of pilots who talk about potential and past problems with drones. The problem as I see it is that the law is too draconian and will result in fewer people becoming properly trained. With more unlicensed drone pilots doing their thing, it will be harder for the FAA to enforce. Now if they were to drop the requirements to a more realistic level, that might entice more people to actually become trained and licensed. Unlicensed violators will be easier to detect, and the FAA will have an easier time clamping down on those that violate the rules.

December 4, 2014 at 11:42PM

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As a pilot, I really do not want to see a drone flying up where I am flying and potentially cause an emergency situation. The FAA just release a report of 25 near collision situations and 150 other sightings of drones from manner aircraft since June.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/near-collisions-be...

What I would like to see is a some sort of informational course that can explain to drone operators that, no, the air above them does not belong to them. They need to be cautious and safe when operating their craft. 400 feet is not a randomly chosen number. All manned planes must operate at or above 500 feet as prescribed by the FAA, so that rule is keeping a 100 foot separation. (Helicopters may operate lower if without hazard to persons or property on the surface) Around airports where the pilots attentions is already focused on the task of landing or taking off, a small DJI Phantom that is hard to spot is not something that a pilot should have to be worrying about.

I am all for drones and keeping the ability to use them open and easily available. But there must be some form of education in place to teach operators that the air above them is a shared environment and safe and knowledgeable operation is critical. It is probably silly for the FAA to make it a full certificate to operate a Phantom, but something as simple as a online information course that gives you a certificate for completion would make great strides in safety for all who operate in the sky. For your safety and the pilots who fly above you, keep those drones below 400 and for Gods sake keep them away from airports!

December 4, 2014 at 8:04PM

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This statement is just fear mongering. While any near collision situation is dangerous and no pilot wants, I am sure there have been near collisions between bicycles, cars, trucks and even pedestrians. The article does list some scary moments. The 25 near collisions is out of how many flights. 1000?, 10,000?, 100,000?.

Common sense (which has long been dead) and situational awareness need to be applied when flying a drone or walking along the road.

December 5, 2014 at 10:22AM

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How hard would it be to program a 400 foot heigh limit on drones? They operate of GPS, so it seems that this would not only be easy to implement, but also wouldn't seriously limit one's ability to use a drone for decent video and photography. I'd rather have the option to fly a done up to 400 feet than not fly at all. Combine this will a written test for applicants (not a full pilot's license) and the vast majority of users would be happy.

December 5, 2014 at 1:45PM

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David Patterson
videographer/editor
447

As a pilot that has encountered drones on approach
I am for FAA pilot certification to fly drones...

December 5, 2014 at 3:52PM

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Bill Montei
Owner MEG Filmworks
88

The arguments below are mostly valid and informed but the actual issue here is somewhat unadressed. The FAA feels inclined to resrict drone usage not because it's another thing for them to monitor and control but because drones actually do take up airspace. A altitude limitaiton of 400agl would help to limit most conflicts seeing as the minimum altitude for manned aircraft over inhabbited areas is 500agl but there are still craft such as emergency helicopters to consider. Yes the public is largely misinformed about the usage and implication of drones but the FAA isn't restricting their use for public opinion but to avoid future battles.

As far as requiring a Private Pilot's License to operate a drone there are several things to consider. Is the FAA going to make pilots get a full fledged certificate to fly fixed or rotary wing aircraft? Or is the FAA going to form a new license specifically for drones? If the FAA makes people get a pilots license to operate drones then I can only assume that they will require commercial certification if you are flying a drone as a form of income. A PPL takes 40 hours flight time to attain in the US and a commercial license takes minimum 250 hours. That puts a huge limitation on people seeking to use drones in part of their buisness and so I believe that it would be in the best interest of all to keep the certifications seperate. Putting a multiple year gap between flying a drone for fun and for commerce would do nothing but hurt opinion of the FAA and drone users wallets. Of course they could also allow pilots to accumulate hours towards a commercial ticket via drone usage in the same way you log your hours in a conventional plane. That would likely cause a spike in commercial ratings due to the incredible price difference betwen drone and aircraft flight. I just wanted to point out some red tape to consider and also point out that it's not really that bad and it is assuredly for a reason.

December 9, 2014 at 7:34PM

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Christian Bark
Cinema Window-shopper (for now)
74

I'm surprised by how many nofilmschool readers are licensed pilots. :-)

And, didn't the article get it exactly wrong? How about this:
"For filmmakers who make a living through drone videography, these proposed regulations likely won't have much impact (because those shots and productions are rare and between a Steadicam and a 30ft jib you could afford it). However, for hobbyists who have a drone and like to fly it around their backyard, these regulations could very well make their lives incredibly difficult, especially if they're strictly enforced."

December 12, 2014 at 4:36AM

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Drew Lahat
DP, Editor, Colorist
13