HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Companies are turning to drones for everything from filming to aerial inspections, but only a few of the businesses in Hawaii offering these services are operating legally.
Mike Elliott owns a company that sells and repairs unmanned aircraft systems. He is waiting for the federal government to approve a Section 333 exemption to operate drones as part of his business.
"We did this awhile back for a number of different reasons, obviously for some of the services that we wanted to provide, but also as an educational piece here in Hawaii," explained Elliott, owner of Drone Services Hawaii. "It's daunting if you have not experienced the process or understand what's involved."
The FAA has granted 850 exemptions on a case-by-case basis to operators of drones in America. Hawaii AirVision on Kauai is one of a handful of local companies with a waiver. The approval process took six months.
"A lot of people are unhappy with the process because you have to be a pilot and all this other stuff, but the real truth is, is that it's really about safety," said Adam Orens, Hawaii AirVision's chief pilot.
Ena Media Hawaii and Lewanui have teamed up on the Big Island. One of their first projects was filming the Mars simulation dome atop Mauna Loa. They've secured FAA approval, but know of other local businesses operating illegally.
"Someone did get dinged with a $10,000 fine for commercially operating an unmanned aerial system," said Andrew Richard Hara, CEO of Ena Media Hawaii. "The FAA has been retroactively searching even YouTube for videos that are being propagated."
Recreational operators don't need an exemption, but one is required if money is exchanged or the drone use is done on behalf of a business.
"I hope that there are protocols set in place that we could safely use them for a long time without people getting hurt, physically or emotionally or that privacy is still respected," said Hara.