“Flying my drone for profit”

(From a current discussion on the PhantomPilots forum) The problem the FAA is dealing with, of course, is the fact that this is new breed of aircraft, requiring exceptions to a dozen or more existing rules that were listed in the applications for Section 333 exemptions which were recently granted. That makes things complicated. Behind the scenes, of course, are those other factors, such as pressure from the Department of Defense manufacturers who would prefer to keep the game to themselves, and the AOPA which has taken a similar stand out of safety fears.

These two forces have a lot of weight to throw around and that weight has likely been used to restrain the process. We all like to blame the FAA but the reality may well be they are standing in a bureaucratic ants nest with politicians looking over their shoulders. In that respect it may be surprising that anything at all has happened, but it has been happening, behind the scenes, however slowly. A horde of hounds is all too ready to pounce on any false move, so it’s no wonder the moves are made slowly and, we might think, with excessive caution.

So where does that leave us? Clearly, the rules will need to be rewritten. People who make rules don’t like them to be rewritten because they are often tangled in a web of other rules, and there’s the danger of a domino effect if something is overlooked; some detail missed. But there is a process for that. Aviation documents, like the FAR/AIM and Sectional Maps are revised on a regular schedule.

Current sectionals already contain a new icon for “Unmanned Aircraft Activity” which also appears in the Testing Supplement used on FAA testing.It’s no simple task. Be grateful that our own FAA has not followed Australia. Sure, Australia has commercial UAV licensing, but it is very expensive to become licensed and there is a hefty fee for renewal. We really don’t want that.There are rules that need to be revised or rewritten. Exceptions must be derived for at least 15 of those regulations, including the matter of “piloting for hire”. Existing test questions may need to be rewritten; there may even need to be a new pilot designation with a corresponding test.

Where do the qualifications fit in? Health certificates? Flight hours? Certified aircraft? Flight time requirements? Logging? Verification of those flight logs? Training levels? Who is to conduct the training? New flight Instructors? How do current Certified Flight Instructors become qualified for this new field when almost none of them has any experience in this kind of flying? It’s “Catch-22” on steroids. Like the comment in one of the applications pointed out: an airline pilot is as likely to get into trouble flying a DJI as one of us would be trying to fly an airliner. OK, so maybe they’re not on the same scale but you get the idea.

So where do you place your bets? You can count on the FAA to the keep to pattern of the existing regulating structure. We can expect an FAA ground school test. Existing pilots will have a head start but they will likely need to add a special endorsement, just as a single engine pilot obtains a multi-engine endorsement, for example. Next will come qualifications for experience and some other considerations for the unique environment of low altitude remote piloted aircraft. UAS pilots can expect to be required to maintain flight logs and stay current in their skills. (The common thread that is emerging is that the pilot in command will need to have 200 flight cycles and 25 hours of UAS (rotorcraft or fixed wing) experience and 5 hours with the aircraft to be used.)

Now, back to the subject at hand: “Using my drone for profit”.

There is a lesson to be gleaned from the recent granting of Section 333 exemptions for some movie production companies. One applicant challenged the authority and wisdom of the FAA. That application was not granted. Surprise! In the same vein, a few months back someone in the FAA gave me some personal advice that if I intend to obtain a license I should “stay off the radar” with regard to the FAA.

Pilot licenses don’t come from a vending machine, so if your name shows up on a list of offenders you could find yourself locked out of the game. Daring the FAA at this point in the process is not wise. Like Santa Claus, you can bet a list is being made. Things will be starting to come together soon enough; possibly sooner than you think. Don’t blow it now.

You can start by studying the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, logging your flying time, applying for N-Numbers for your aircraft, collecting a few safety items, checking into insurance sources, and then wait patiently for the door to open.

It will open.