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I’m flying a drone for “X” reason, but I’m not getting paid! Do I still need a license?

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“…I’m flying a drone as a volunteer to take pictures for a non-profit.”

“…I’m flying a drone in an outdoor racing competition, and there are prizes involved.”

“…I’m flying a drone to take pictures of my friend’s house, which I’m giving to her for free, but she is going to use them in the marketing materials to sell her house.”

“Do I need a license?”

So you’re flying a drone, and aren’t sure if it’s a hobby or commercial use case. And, if the latter, you’re not sure if you need a license?

I get a LOT of questions from people who walk the “grey area” line about whether they need a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, under Part 107.

The FAA clearly states that anyone who is flying a drone for business purposes needs to have a license, which requires passing a test.

The thing that is less clear? What really dictates a “business purpose.” Many drone flights, such as those done as a volunteer or for compensation that isn’t in the form of money, fall into a grey area, and many wonder if they really need to have a license.

“Using a sUAS to take photographs for your own personal use would be considered recreational,” according to the FAA’s website. “Using the same device to take photographs or videos for compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a commercial operation.”

But is receiving a trophy or free drone for winning an FPV race considered compensation? Is a non-profit using photos that were donated to them still considered commercial? There are lots of grey areas here.

Let me preface this by saying the information below is NOT legal advice. Please contact an attorney to get legal advice — but I can weigh in.

First, you should get a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate anyway.  Passing this test is your first entry into U.S. airspace — the safest airspace in the world. Plus, many insurance providers require a Part 107 license, and often companies won’t hire you to do a drone job for them if you are unlicensed.

By studying for the test, you’ll learn valuable information about airport operations and weather, and that knowledge is power! And it feels awesome to have that certificate proving you have substantial knowledge of our airspace.

Related post: FAA Part 107 test: everything you need to know (except the answers)

Taking the test requires some effort, but is not too onerous, even for people with zero prior knowledge about flying. I recommend taking an online study course, leaving a couple weeks to study before taking your test. Here are my recommendations for study courses:

UAV Ground School: Gold Seal’s online Part 107 course is one of the few study courses that is actually FAA approved. Use promo code DRONEGIRL to save $25 and take that price down to just $174. Drone Pilot Ground School offers a fantastic online training course with practice tests and repeatable videos (this is actually the course I used…and I passed on my first try!) Drone Launch Academy: this is another online training course with repeatable videos and study guides. Use DRONEGIRL50 or this link to get $50 off!

Secondly, I will say (and this is NOT permission to knowingly break any laws), that — particularly if your drone use case falls in the grey area of commercial use — it does not appear that the FAA is putting a lot of resources into prosecuting people who fly without a license.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, in January 2018 I obtained all of the documentation of the FAA punishing drone pilots for operating a drone business without a license.

So far, the FAA has caught and punished only one drone pilot. His punishment? A warning notice.

The FAA also said that its main goal right now is to educate, not punish violators, since there is still a lack of public knowledge (and a lot of grey area) about how to legally fly drones. However, keep in mind their stance on educating over enforcement could change at any time.

Tldr: get your license anyway, it’s worth it! But (and this is NOT legal advice or permission), I wouldn’t stress about not having a license if you are operating drones in one of those grey areas.

For more information, I highly recommend reading the FAA’s Know Before You Fly site pages for both business users here and hobby users here.

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I’m flying a drone for “X” reason, but I’m not getting paid! Do I still need a license? was originally posted at http://thedronegirl.com/2018/02/25/drone-pilot-license-grey-area/ by Sally French

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Yuneec partners with Parrot to put Pix4D’s mapping software in its commercial drones

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As drone companies look to compete with  drone industry king DJI, two companies have come up with a unique strategy: combine resources and team up.

Yuneec, a Chinese drone manufacturer known mostly for its Typhoon hobby drone, has partnered with Pix4D, a 3D mapping software company owned by French drone manufacturer Parrot, which is known for its Bebop and AR toy drones.

A screengrab of the Pix4D software.

The two companies announced this week that Parrot’s  Pix4Dcapture software would now be available on Yuneec’s H520 ST16S ground station controller. The software gives users the ability to create georeferenced maps and models from drone imagery, Pix4D capture is used in verticals such as law enforcement, inspection and construction, where drone pilots can customize flight plans and parameters and view maps in multiple orientations.

The Pix4Dcapture software will now be pre-installed on all future Yuneec’s H520 ST16s ground stations and available via software update for existing H520 owners. 

Yuneec’s H520, which was announced in January 2017, is a six-rotor drone targeted at commercial applications. It looks very much like the Typhoon H drone (but is bright orange for high visibility), building off the six-rotor platform (that is capable of flying under emergency situations with just five rotors) while incorporating commercial-grade cameras and applications for high-end commercial use.

The partnership is unique as Parrot opts to extend the reach of its software into drones outside of the Parrot family. Pix4D has been integrated into Parrot’s enterprise-level drones, including the Disco-Pro and the Parrot Bluegrass. But it’s interesting to see Parrot drones appearing in drones by what is seemingly a competitor company.

Meanwhile, DJI’s attention when it comes to consumer drones is on the thermal imaging market. The Chinese drone behemoth, which has an estimated 70% share of the drone industry, recently announced a partnership with thermal camera maker FLIR to integrate its thermal cameras into its drones alongside a traditional 4K camera with the launch of the new DJI XT2 camera.

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Yuneec partners with Parrot to put Pix4D’s mapping software in its commercial drones was originally posted at http://thedronegirl.com/2018/04/06/yuneec-partners-with-parrot-to-put-pix4ds-mapping-software-in-its-commercial-drones/ by Sally French

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FAA seeking more LAANC suppliers months after industry criticism about “ol’ boy’s club forming”

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The Federal Aviation Administration is seeking more applicants to participate as a supplier in its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) drone program.

A month after announcing that it would  expand tests of its real-time approval processing program to 500 airports by the fall of this year, the FAA wants more companies to supply LAANC services.

The LAANC program allows drone operators to use an interface from one of four providers that were hand-picked by the FAA — AirMap, Project Wing (an entity of X, formerly known as Google), Rockwell Collins and Skyward — to request approval to fly in restricted airspace. Operators would then receive approval almost instantly.

That instantly speeds up the ability to legally fly in controlled airspace such as near airports — a cumbersome process that had required individual applications and took months.

While the drone industry was generally excited that the process to get permission to fly in controlled airspaces has gotten easier, many industry players feared that the FAA selecting just 4 companies to provide such a service with no clear criteria of how to get chosen was a threat to other companies, particular small startups with minimal resources.

“Getting exclusive access to what is essentially a national resource doesn’t seem like a fair gig at all,” said Joshua Ziering, founder of Kittyhawk, a drone-operations platform similar to Skyward in a past interview with The Drone Girl. “With this, the FAA is essentially picking winners in the private industry.”

Since that time, the FAA announced that it considering agreements with additional entities to provide LAANC services. The period for new entities to apply will run from April 16 to May 16. Interested parties can find information on the application process here.

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FAA seeking more LAANC suppliers months after industry criticism about “ol’ boy’s club forming” was originally posted at http://thedronegirl.com/2018/04/03/faa-seeking-laanc-suppliers/ by Sally French

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China’s second-largest courier just got permission for drone delivery

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Drone delivery has arrived in China.

SF Express, a courier in China, announced that one of its subsidiaries received the first official permit to deliver packages via drones.

The courier is focused on delivering items via drones to more sparsely populated areas. The company said it intends to use a few types of drones. Traditional manned aircraft will delivery items at large scale to major warehouses, followed by big drones delivering items to local warehouses and small drones making the actual deliveries to customers.

Tests of SF Express’s drones have been spotted as early as 2013, the same year Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon was working toward drone delivery. SF Express is the second largest courier in China after China Post.

With the new government approvals, SF Express can legally make deliveries in approved airspace. But that still doesn’t mean drones will be making deliveries anywhere and everywhere just yet. The flights are still in beta mode, with SF Express launching a pilot zone in the Nankang district of Ganzhou, a city in Jiangxi province, where it had already been testing drone deliveries. After that stage, drone delivery would expand across the entire provence.

China has made huge headway in the field of drone delivery. Another company called JD.com, which has been described as the Chinese version of Amazon, has a fleet of drones making deliveries near Beijing.

JD’s heavy-load drones can carry payloads weighing more than a ton and focuses on flying along fixed routes from warehouses to special landing pads in rural villages, where local contractors for the company then deliver the packages to the customers’ doorsteps.

That model is similar to that of Iceland’s Flytrex, which flies fixed routes from warehouses to specified points across the city. From there, a human courier handles the packages between that drop-off point and the customer’s house, filling in the “last mile,” or the customer can come to the drop-off point to receive it themselves.

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China’s second-largest courier just got permission for drone delivery was originally posted at http://thedronegirl.com/2018/04/02/chinas-second-largest-courier-just-got-permission-drone-delivery/ by Sally French

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