Feds finalize new rules for commercial drone operations

Feds finalize new rules for commercial drone operations
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Up until now if you wanted to fly your drone in a commercial capacity, you needed to have a pilot's license.

George Russell's drone company HI-vantage LLC already has FAA permission to shoot video for film and TV, and he can get paid for it. Russell has an exemption to operate a drone commercially.

"There's a lot of beauty that can be taken by these. Just look at our island state. It's a lovely place to shoot," he said.

It took Russel months to secure the FAA's approval and thousands of dollars to process the paperwork.

Now, the feds have finalized new rules that open the door for more drone pilots to operate commercially.  The biggest change is they will no longer need a pilot's license.

"There's a huge business for ag inspection, agricultural inspection here in Hawaii. There's heavy construction, building, real estate, search and rescue," Russell said.

Estin Ma has flown drones since 2008.  He doesn't have a pilot license so his aerial photography has been limited to just a hobby.  Now he'll be able to be compensated for his skill.

"For the longest time I wanted to start making some money off of this. It's a future. It's a growing industry that I get to be a part of," he said.

The FAA rules mandate commercial drone operators fly their machines during daylight hours, below 400 feet altitude and within their line of sight.

They will need to be re-certified every two years and carry aerial insurance.

"You have to follow the standards that they lay out and help to build this industry so that it becomes more the norm than the exception," said Mike Elliot of Drone Services Hawaii.

Ma plans to apply when the FAA finalizes the procedures for certifying commercial operators. That should be sometime in August.

"I get the approval from the FAA, take the written test, I pass, and I can now sell those photos," he said.

Russell works with licensed pilots for his jobs.  He still plans to use them. He hopes the new rules encourage all drone pilots to follow the rules.

"There's a lot of people out there that are flying illegally on paid work," he said.

About 40 drone operators in Hawaii are certified to fly for commercial purposes. Those numbers are expected to rise.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.