Flying Your Quadcopter Commercially?

So you want to fly your quadcopter commercially? You should think twice before you start to make money with your drone.

It is cool to think that drones and quadcopters could be used for something like delivering Amazon packages, but many hobbyists have already beat them to it. Quadcopters have become advanced and there has been more than enough demand to fly them commercially from filming events to using them to examine crops in a farmer’s field. We intend to summarize the current US laws and what you need to know to safely and legally operate your machine(s).

Flying for Fun

In the US, airspace is split up into different classes based on the altitude you will be flying. For most commercial airlines there is Class A which is between 18,000 feet and 60,000 feet. Below that are various different classes that go as low as 1200 feet which is the limit at which drone operators need to pay attention to. Class G is the unregulated space between 700 and 1200 feet above ground.

Currently, the FAA has no authority below 700 feet so you can legally fly below that level on a federal level. Back in 1981 they suggested that model aircraft operators fly below 400 feet, but as of now they have no authority to keep you that low. That being said, the FAA is looking at possible regulation, but that won’t happen for at least a few years. The only thing that you would need to check are the local laws and how they interpret things.

Although privacy is not mentioned in the constitution, local laws can have limits on this and by using a video camera in the air you can violate some of these. Please check out any local regulations regarding noise and privacy before getting started.

The freedom of flying in these spaces changes dramatically if you are being paid to fly.

Flying Commercially

As of 2007 the FAA put a ban on flying UAV’s commercially regardless of the elevation. The difference between flying for fun and flying commercially is big. If you are caught flying commercially you could face fines which can reach tens of thousands of dollars.

Currently commercial flying is a booming business in other countries around the globe. However, since the 2007 ruling, the FAA has caused the industry to dry up in America. Within the US the FAA has issued a bunch of cease and desist letters to various operations who are using drones for commercial gain. Some have closed up shop while others have been forced to operate under ground in all cash transactions.

The AMA is the largest model airplane association with over 150,000 members nationwide. They have been fighting to get the FAA to decide on doing something about commercially flying drones or quadcopters in the US. Recently though, it has been made apparent that drone entrepreneurs are going to have to wait a bit longer as they recently missed a deadline to have them legal and regulated by the beginning of 2015.

As of right now, it is illegal to fly any sort of drone, quadcopter, or RC helicopter for profit in the US, unless you were lucky enough to get a license before the regulations took place. Check the AMA Government Relations Blog for up to date info on the subject.

General Rules for Flying

Here is a summary of the rules and best practices for flying in the US:

  • Do not fly above 400 ft.
  • Do not fly above a populated area.
  • Always fly close enough to see your aircraft also called visual line of sight (VSOL).
  • If flying First Person Video (FPV), have another person standing next to you spotting your aircraft so it does not leave your Visual Line of Sight (VSOL)
  • Do not fly within 3 miles of an airport.
  • Do not fly your aircraft for any commercial purpose.

Summary

With hardware getting cheaper it has been progressively easier to get up in the air these days especially with quadcopters that hold a Go Pro . Only time will tell what will happen with the industry in the US but what we do know is that it is a big enough industry that it will force the FAA to make a decision. As of now it is illegal to fly commercially in the US so don’t go starting your commercial flying business just yet. Remember to start small with something like a Hubsan x4 before you move up to the big quadcopters 🙂

Edit (3/7/14): A federal judge has struck down a fine that the FAA issued to an individual filming for commercial purposes. For the mean time it is not considered illegal to fly commercially 🙂