As explained in our section on US laws and regulations regarding unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly called "drones" by the media, it's currently against FAA policy to allow any unmanned aircraft to operate in a commercial capacity. That includes aerial photography and journalism.
One of the many recent casualties to the lack of FAA regulations on small, commercial UAS was an aerial photography service in Minnesota called EidCom. The company, which just celebrated its tenth anniversary, started out helping with audio and visuals at corporate and nonprofit events. Recently it spun off a company called Vantage Aerials, which uses small unmanned aircraft to gather low-altitude aerial video.
As CBS affiliate WCCO reports, that new company was doing brisk business. At least, until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shut the service down:
BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. (WCCO) – Charles Eide and Mike Danielson have been flying radio controlled aircraft since they little kids growing up in the same neighborhood.
As adults they formed a business, sharing a love of video production and photography.
Soon, they discovered their hobby could merge with their business, which took a huge leap when they began taking on aerial photographic work.
By mounting stabilized cameras onto the bellies of the drone aircraft, Eide and Danielson can offer customers a bird’s-eye view of anything from construction sites, to city attractions, to real estate listings.
“It helps sell houses, which is really in my opinion a huge economic impact in the Twin Cities — helps houses move faster,” Eide said.
Business was booming, until a call came from the Minneapolis office of the Federal Aviation Administration. They were simply told to ground their commercial use of the aircraft. Turns out, current regulations don’t allow unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes.
In fact, their use is strictly prohibited from operating in what the FAA defines as “Class B” airspace. That’s found in densely populated areas around key airport traffic routes, most often the airspace surrounding the busiest airports with a high volume of commercial air traffic.
Eide says he understands the need for safety regulations, but argues that his company has its own flight safety protocols. They rarely fly more than 200 feet above the ground and will never operate near airports.
“What we’re doing is low-range stuff to show off the real estate market and features in a house or property,” Danielson said.
The FAA says the urban airspace demands strict safety restrictions. Eide understands, but argues with tens of thousands of dollars invested in radio controlled aircraft, flying safely is job No. 1.
“I agree that there should be regulation on this stuff because there are more and more hands touching this stuff,” Eide said. “However, we need to work together here.”
The duo wants to work with the FAA over this. The current rules are clear, but the FAA is going to look at these rules on Friday.The WCCO report notes that EidCom follows safety precautions, and rarely flies over 200 feet. For some perspective, the FAA limit for hobbyists is 400 feet, and most aircraft are prohibited from flying below 500 feet, except during emergencies or when landing.
The station also notes an important distinction that this technology is a world apart from the types of unmanned systems used in warzones. It it even tones down its use of the word "drone," which is a word that actually describes a much different class of aerial technology, according to the FAA and the military.