Unlicensed commercial operators

As a licensed remote pilot using sUAV’s for profit, I’m beginning to get frustrated at the number of potential clients that use drones in their business but haven’t bothered to comply with any of the FAA rules. Before starting our drone imaging business, my partner and I were (and still are} commercial pilots and we’d never think about operating outside the FAA rule book. When clients tell me that someone in their organization is using a drone for real estate or commercial roofing applications and I ask if they are licensed I usually get a blank stare or no response at all.

I’m not as concerned with potential lost revenue as I am with these unlicensed operators causing more rules and regulations.

Has anybody dealt with these issues and how so?

I’m going to be using my Phantom 4 with DroneDeploy for graduate research in archaeological survey. There’s also a possibility that the day may come when I want to make my services available to Cultural Resource Management firms. As an experienced professional, how would you recommend I proceed, both for immediate needs and future potentialities, to ensure I do everything correctly? There is a local service that offers training and licensing at a pretty steep price. As far as operator proficiency I don’t think I need that kind of training but what is required for the kind of licensing you’re talking about?

Hi Dagon,

If you are here in the states then you can apply for a remote operators certificate through FAA part 107. It doesn’t need to cost much at all. The FAA website has a free course you can take to prepare you for the required knowledge test. This has to be taken at a certified FAA testing center but if you call a local flight instructor or flight school they can tell you where one is or you can do a search on the FAA website. The cost to take the test should be less than $100.00. After you pass the knowledge test you will have to get a flight instructor to help you fill out an IACRA form and give you an endorsement for the remote operators certificate. I usually charge $40.00 for this service. That’s it.

As far as what license you need right now it’s my understanding that none is needed for your graduate research. Once you begin offering your services for pay or in furtherance of a business then you will definitely need a remote operators certificate .

Congrats on doing it right and good luck.

Thank you Ghheath. Yes I am in the US. The local company I mentioned charges $1200. I’m sure they provide a great experience but it sounded excessive to me.

The knowledge stuff isn’t rocket science. My primary flight students buy a self study course for $200 to get the knowledge info they need for their private pilot certificate. $1200 is pretty steep.

I took FAA 107 test in November at Purdue Aviation and I have no other airmen certifications. It cost me $150 to take the test. After you pass you get a report with exam ID that you use to fill out the IACRA. I didn’t have to have a flight instructor to help fill out the form or get an endorsement. I just waited 24 hours for the results to get uploaded, logged into IACRA and filled out the information. Got my license just 2 weeks ago in the mail.

If you don’t already hold some form of part 61 pilot certificate you don’t need a cfi endorsement. All of the ones that I’ve done were already licensed pilots and required a CFI to validate their application.

Bottom line is that these high price courses are a waste of money in my opinion unless you have to be force fed the information.

I agree with you on the courses. I found 95% of the information needed on FAA website. Pilot handbook and study guide. Biggest trouble I had was reading charts and airspace information.

My primary students have the same trouble. Sportys.com sells a private pilot ground school for $200 that does a great job of explaining air space and charts as well as everything else you need to become a pilot.

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Yup 1200 is very pricey. You can get the book learning through the ASA (like 40 bucks) and go to an RC club and learn how to fly for free. I had long thought about a business with flight training but I hate dealing with people in a teaching environment and I would rather use my talents in the field making the big bucks as I am doing. I seen some flight training some so called professionals provide and its not worth crap sorry to say. I hope the FAA start doing flight testing now Id love to be flight examiner. Then we can really weed out the folks who should not be in the air. Part 107, Private Pilot, Professional Photographer and business owner.

Thanks for the response.

Back to my original question though. How do you handle unlicensed commercial operators. We’ve spent a lot of money launching our business and its frustrating to see all the unlicensed people not knowing what theyre doing.

I think you can’t really do anything about it. Put it this way if you make it your mission to find the info and call in on all the unlicensed operators you will get so dug down into that when in fact you just need to get more customers and move forward with your brand/name. Because ultimately these scum bags will disappear and you if your doing a good job treating customers well IE building re pore you will have so much business you will start hiring others and grow exponentially. I am not saying don’t nail anyone and forget it cause if you can easily pass a little info on to bust these people by gosh do it but don’t get bogged down with it all.

Is there no way to report these violations? Here in Canada we would report to Transport Canada (there’s a form right on their webpage) if a UAV is spotted in restricted airspace, and they would investigate. If no Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) has been issued and the UAV is being flown commercially, there are fines/jail time.

There was definitely a way to report in the 333 days (a local company did it constantly from what I was told), but I would imagine its a lot harder if you have no evidence for them to investigate (if its all internal or private outputs; though real estate would probably have their video available publically.) And then you’re at the whim and (limited) resources of the FAA - even before the 107 came out, most of the cases that went to court were because of wreckless behavior (with the commercial work being an extra charge)

Good job you do not live/operate here in Australia. Our Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA = our FAA) recently made it legal to operate an under 2 kg drone for commercial Ops without an operator’s certificate or drone pilot lic. I know it took my son and I over 6 months and too many dollars to set up for and be trained then CASA approved. On the plus side we do have (When it is working) a way to report via the internet poor drone pilots if we can establish who they are (Tricky).

Same here! And it is really frustrating. I spoke with the state Mississippi FAA rep and he told me they don’t have to go looking for commercial unlicensed drone users as he gets several each week reported to him. I asked “Who is turning them in?” Response, “Licensed pilots.” I sure hate to turn someone in–but then on the other hand IT IS ABOUT SAFETY! I would also hate to be the person that knew about a unlicensed pilot that crashed their drone into a plane and caused a major (or even minor) accident. Bottom line: We need to educate, educate, educate not only unlicensed drone pilots but the public. Best way would be talking to groups of relators at their monthly meetings, etc. Good luck!


You landed on one for me!

I suspect all of us have experienced bogus drone pilots flying commercially.
Like anything relatively new, it’s an ongoing education process to those who wish to hire someone for sUAV photography.

Businesses and individuals who hire drone pilots don’t 1) Ask questions about qualifications, or 2) Know the questions to ask, or 3) How to drill down on the response they receive.

I believe many, if not most prospective clients think that simply being registered by the FAA is good enough for commercial flight. And, I think many FAA registered hobbyists would tell a prospect they are legally registered by the FAA and that will suffice.

I was recently hired to shoot a 14 acre development site. It was a referral. The realtor did not ask me a single question other than how much and when? I bought her up to speed.

So my mission is the educate by personal contact when appropriate, social media, and local news interviews. I was fortunate to land an interview on our local NBC affiliate to discuss “Know before you fly”. This was right after Christmas.

I have been invited to speak to 30 realtors next month about this…don’t risk hiring the wrong drone pilot.

So my “elevator speech” to those who may want to hire a drone photographer is:

  1. Are you an FAA Part 107 certified drone pilot? I’d love to see your license.
  2. Do you carry at least $500,000 liability insurance for flight? Can you show proof of insurance? A hobbyist isn’t going to have insurance other than maybe AMA…not valid for commercial flight.

See Bob Sowder on Facebook, or go to Bob Sowder Youtube.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Couldn’t agree more with candidskyproductions. Market your brand/name. Get high organic search on your name/website. Make a pitch to your local news stations for an interview. “Hobbyists don’t always know the rules…is your local airspace safe?” Those of us who are certified and serious…and are good marketers, will pave the way.

I have thought of this quite a bit, as well, but it also appears that there is little to spend time on, other than making sure that we’re doing the best we can to market ourselves, and to educate our customers and prospective customers as best we can. Very much like how bsowder put it at #17. We created documents that cover “Expectations and Limitations” and “Drone Operator Questionnaire” that we give to our partners, and any customer that contacts us directly. I have been a bit taken aback at how little even experienced photographers and realtors know about the legal aspects of drone operation, but have not had a bad response yet after providing them with some detail.

Theoretically, it could be possible for the FAA to enforce that people hiring operators ensure that each drone/aerial business be licensed via some sort of paper trail, but I suspect that this is a question of man hours available to do such enforcement, and other priorities that they have in front of them. I came out of the software industry, and see this as akin to tracking down software pirates - if something falls in their lap, or there are people who blatantly flaunt it, they will get caught. The single operator in Nowhere, USA likely isn’t going to be looked at, though.

Glad to see this being discussed, though, and I do believe that keeping the dialog going, and educating the masses is the proper path, at the moment. At some point, I believe that the FAA will be forced to push regulations, whether by direct enforcement or software limitations pushed to developers. There are just going to be too many crafts in the air, and too much risk around airports (especially smaller ones).

Ive just started out commercially in NZ where you dont need a license, but what does get me are the hobbyist operators making a bit of money on the side. I pay full insurance, aviation liability insurance, have upto date local council UAV permits and a full Health & Safety Management System to show I can assess and mitigate risks. BUT the hobbyists can do it cheaper, of course they can, they are non compliant as shit and if something goes wrong niether them or the client are covered legally! Real hard to be taken seriously with so many cowboys!