man operating a drone

April 6, 2018

Ever-expanding use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in a variety of commercial operations has brought with it the unwelcome matter of recreational operators flying drones for compensation.

Enacted two years ago, Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations requires that commercial operators flying UAS weighing less than 55 pounds pass an initial knowledge test for remote operator certification. Recreational UAS operators are not required to hold that certification but are also prohibited from operating a drone for commercial use.

In addition to companies receiving direct financial compensation from use of a drone – a professional aerial imaging provider, for example – entities receiving an indirect financial benefit from their use are also considered commercial UAS operators under Part 107.

“This is different than the long-held distinction between Part 91 and Part 135 operations,” explained Sarah Wolf, NBAA’s senior manager of security and facilitation. “Not only are for-hire drone operations considered commercial under Part 107, any not-for-hire drone operations in support of a business are considered commercial as well.” Thus, a home inspector flying a store-bought UAS to determine the condition of a roof is a commercial operator, as is a landscaper photographing jobs with a drone to use in advertising their business. “If the drone’s mission serves any business purpose at all, that’s commercial under Part 107, even if no money changes hands to pay for the flight.”

Brent Terwilliger, program chair for masters in science in unmanned and autonomous systems engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and chairman of the UAS subcommittee of NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee, frequently encounters situations involving non-certificated operators flying drones for commercial purposes.

“Mostly, it’s been a matter of ignorance of the rules,” he noted. “However, there are recreational operators out there who know they’re in violation, which not only poses safety concerns; those operators undercut the responsible Part 107 operators who paid to become certified and have insurance and other overhead expenses.”

Those seeking clarity about the rules for commercial drone use should consult the broad array of educational tools available, including the industry-driven “Know Before You Fly” initiative, NBAA’s own UAS resources and social media forums devoted to the responsible operation of unmanned aircraft.

“There are multiple avenues to inform operators of their responsibilities to conduct safe drone operations, but I think we’re seeing a disconnect in getting that information out there,” Terwilliger said. “Our community is extremely open and willing to help you do things the right way. If you ever have questions, reach out – someone will have the answer.”