As you might have noticed, there are a LOT of so-called professional drone operators, bidding for your dollar.
At first, this seems like a dream - a buyer's market at its best.
Well, to some extent, this is true. Drone manufacturing companies like DJI are now scaling up their businesses, going from around 50,000 units sold per year to over 600,000 units sold. They're moving into the Apple business model: sell many units, repair as few units as possible, replace or force upgrades on as many units as possible.
So yes, for just over a thousand dollars, you too can be a professional drone owner and operator - just buy a P3P or a P4P, and you're all set. See? It even says "Professional" on the label.
Thing is, there's a lot more to drone operating than buying one. Or even flying one.
That's like saying "buy this jet and be a pilot", as a lot of first-time fliers have found out, unfortunately, the hard way.
But hey, this licensing stuff is something like that, right?
Not exactly. You have to buy it (the license) and then take at least a test. And the test is really only around 30% about drones, per se.
What's the rest of it about?
Well, it's the same stuff that all other pilots have to take tests on.
What do you know about the weather?
About other types of aircraft, and rights of way?
About the FAA's legal jurisdiction?
About your duties and responsibilities as a pilot? (and yes, every pilot has those, even the pilots of toy airplanes. Even a fingernail-sized drone can put out an eye, quite easily. Don't think it's a toy.)
So, like every Highway Code for every road and every driver, if you put a toy car on a freeway, or you just plain haven't learned how to drive, sooner or later, those blue lights will come flashing for you. No excuses.
In our instance, the FAA now has over 200 cases lodged against people who have flown their drones unsafely, with fines up to $10,000 per instance - and in many cases, these cases have been filed months, even years after those flights have taken place. Here's a list of them, current at the time of this blog entry:
How do they do that?
Well, if you have very cleverly stolen a shot over, say, Santa Monica, California, where drone flight is illegal without prior permission, then two things happen today.
a) your DJI drone won't let you take off in a flight restricted zone without your entering a "I have permission" box and disabling the geo-fencing system. Of course, you'll have already signed in to get the DJI flight system to start up, so they know exactly who you are. And all GPS-enabled drones, including DJI's have automatic flight logging now, so you can't just tell them "well I didn't know" because that's the law too: not knowing about it just plain is not an excuse.
b) when you hit your "I have permission" box, it's getting to a stage where the cops will be alerted if you're lying.
And of course this is all in the cloud now, so it won't go away. So the FAA is looking through them all, and systematically prosecuting.
After all, your video shot of Santa Monica is already on your website, or on your Instagram, and that won't go away either. And it's no use denying it when it's material evidence, available for all to see.
And guess what? If they can't find the drone owner, they're going to go after the client instead.
Which is why I'm posting this blog to you.
A couple of weeks ago, I was flying off a hilltop in class G airspace, but near the downtown LA never-fly zone, and within seconds of taking off, a police chopper started flying directly at me from some miles away, no dodging or weaving, no deviating even one degree. No, even from that distance, as soon as I turned my ratio on, it immediately picked it up, and came directly at me, and stopped to hover around 15 yards away from me. I landed immediately, turned off my radio control, waved at the cop. He went away.
Because terrorists have started using drones to deliver IED's, there is NO tolerance for this type of thing. Not these days.
Clients, do check that the person you are hiring has their license.
It's easy to do, just use this site:
and type in LEONG, CHRISTOPHER ROSS.
You'll see if I have a license or not, and if it's current or not.
Then gently remind them, for both your sakes, not to fly illegally. This means no overflying when it's restricted airspace. You could get fined and the drone op could well lose their license.
You know a "NO ENTRY" sign on a freeway? or a "WRONG WAY" sign on a road? Well, there are definitely such signs for every inch of air over the USA. But, just like taking a driver's test, a 107 pilot has to learn where and how to read those signs, and of course, then not be stupid enough to ignore them. A pilot's license will NOT tolerate even a single DUI, so alcohol is definitely a danger sign. "8 hours from bottle to throttle" goes one of the 107 rules, for instance. There's a lot more to it, but mainly it involves safety. Your safety, the pilot's safety and the safety of others on the ground the drone might crash into, like hikers in a park zone, for instance.
Yes, you can get a license yourself. It isn't hard, like getting a pilot's license isn't hard. Yes, you can fly a drone yourself.
But don't do it for profit, which the FAA defines as "anything to promote your business" without a 107 license, and once you have that license, don't abuse it.
Driving a plane in the air is easy, A few hours of tuition and almost anybody can do it, like driving a car around in an empty parking lot.
Being a driver isn't just buying a car.
Being a pilot isn't just driving a plane.