New FAA drone rules in effect
The Park Record
Native Parkite Leith Strachan opened Dragonfly Ops in April of 2015, and he describes it as an “aerial data collection and analysis business.” The shorter description: Dragonfly Ops flies drones, and Strachan said they do a lot of work within that industry.
“We cast a pretty wide net but currently we’re mainly focusing on the video aspect,” he said.
Flying drones commercially means getting licensed, of course, but until very recently Strachan said that process was less than ideal. In order to operate, Dragonfly Ops had to obtain a Chapter 333 exemption from the FAA.
“One of the requirements of that exemption is that someone on the team had to have a current pilot’s license,” he said. “So we would have to hire pilots, and that increased our costs. Our options were to either hire pilots or go through flight school ourselves, which when starting a startup business, you really don’t have a lot of time for.”
That’s why Strachan was one of the first in line, so to speak, when the FAA began offering a new license specifically for unmanned aerial vehicle operators Monday. Strachan said he was one of the first to take and pass the new test, which he said is essentially a pilot’s license, just geared toward unmanned craft rather than manned.
He said as someone who has been working with drones for many years, he appreciated the rigorousness of the test.
“It wasn’t too intense to where we would fail, but it was intense enough to where anyone who didn’t really know what they were doing would not be able to pass,” he said. “It makes sure that people actually know what they are doing when they get into the business, and that they are able to operate safely with other pilots in the same airspace.”
Strachan said the new licensing process makes business more cost-effective, which he said was always supposed to be the big selling point for drones.
“That’s the advantage versus regular aircraft,” he said. “People having to go through flight school to fly a drone, that increases the overall price and we have to charge more. And that counteracts the fact that drones can do things cheaper.”
Those within the drone industry have been pushing for a new licensing process for years, Strachan said, and the FAA has been playing catch-up.
“They’ve been scrambling to catch up to the new technology,” he said. “They were saying that drones coming on the scene has been the most disruptive technology to the national airspace since the advent of the jet engine.
“Before jets there were only propeller planes, which moved much slower,” he said. “When jet engines were introduced, the FAA had to revamp the entire airspace to account for them. Drones are the same thing. The FAA is trying to keep up with new technology.”
Strachan said he is hopeful that tighter regulation will help weed out bad actors, those who, for example, fly drones near wildland fires and force emergency aircraft to be grounded. He said those reckless pilots create a stigma around drones.
“People who do that are looked down on in our community,” he said. “It’s already hard enough to promote our business. People who are doing that are being irresponsible, and you know they are just doing it to get a cool picture or video for their Facebook page.
“Now we have the whole process of registering the drones, so people will be held accountable. It’s a lot better for our industry as a whole because people will be deterred from doing stupid things.”
Film permit within Park City
Park City Municipal’s Special Events Coordinator Tommy Youngblood, who oversees the permitting process for drone filming and photography projects, said he is looking into how the new FAA regulations might affect the city.
“Outside of the federal regulations for flying drones, if someone is going to do a commercial film project with a drone they need to get a permit,” he said. “We work with a group of people from public safety and special events to kind of manage that.
“The way the rules are right now it kind of leaves it up to local jurisdictions. So as a group we are just trying to figure out where that is, and we’re still working on specifics of how that’s managed.”
Youngblood said he is interested to see if the new regulations will mean changes for things like filming major city events.
“The way the rules are written, or at least the way they were written before, is that you can’t fly over crowds,” he said. “At the city, when we do events like the Silly Market or Arts Festival, you can’t [avoid] flying over a crowd.”
Youngblood said he gets about one request a month for a drone filming permit but, he added, that is an increase.
“Six months ago it was zero,” he said.
Youngblood said staff is working hard to ensure they are prepared if the new FAA process means many more people looking to fly drones.
“We’re like everyone else in the country,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure out the safest way to allow this activity to happen, with some restrictions for safety and privacy in place.
“We’re working through the requirements now. I don’t want to give people the idea they can come in and just get a film permit and do whatever they want. It’s very specific and it’s very heavily regulated.”
For a complete summary of the FAA’s new commercial drone regulations, visit http://www.faa.gov/uas/media/Part_107_Summary.pdf. For a local filming permit, call Youngblood at 435-615-5187.
Becca Gerber, a first-term member of the Park City Council who is seen as bringing a younger person’s perspective to the Marsac Building, will seek reelection this year.