Friday, October 17, 2014


Example 2:  Taking photographs with a drone for personal use is OK, but realtors can’t use their own drones to photograph a property they are selling, and a drone photographer can’t take pictures of a “property or event” and sell them to  someone else.  So, what if a home-owner takes some personal photos of a house, then later decides to sell the house, can the home-owner post the photos on a “sell-it-yourself” real estate website?  Can the home-owner give the photos to a realtor who will then use them to try to sell the house for the homeowner?  Should there be a distinction between photos taken before the home-owner lists the house or sale and those taken after the house has been listed for sale (at which point it could be said that the home-owner clearly intended to use the drone photos to sell the house)?

Over the past several months, I have seen a decided decrease in the number of drone operators who are clearly offering to shoot drone footage of real estate or other structures for a price.  I have been personally following about five of these operators and suddenly they no longer offer footage for dollars, but rather talk about providing all-encompassing “solutions” to problems.  So, is a “solution” that offers $10,000 of “consultation” with a free drone video thrown in “commercial”, or are they still “hobbyists”?

A category that the FAA didn’t directly address but which stands out in my mind is when people use drones for clearly “indirectly-commercial” purposes.  For example, a number of outfits that either sell drones or sell services related to drones have all sorts of cool YouTube videos showing one of more of a) their skills as drone pilots, b) their complete disregard for FAA and other drone-related guidelines in what I consider to be an entirely inappropriate attempt to be “the cool rebel”, or c) how well their drone-related products work.  None of these groups are actually taking cash for their flights, but all clearly are using drones to build an image they hope result in sales of their products or their services.  Are these “commercial flights”?

If you shot a cool YouTube video from your drone and you put an advertising message at the beginning, does this transform an otherwise “hobby” flight into a commercial one?

My wife and I just completed a project in Thailand where we flew our drone over the roof of a Buddhist temple, then edited the footage to show the monks where they had missing roof tiles, birds nesting in the rafters, and even plants growing out of the side of the temples.  We didn’t ask for any money from the monks, and the project was definitely one of the most fun and worthwhile things I have ever done, but if posting the video results a lot of people noticing the resort my wife and I own in Thailand, were they “commercial flights”?

Friday, October 10, 2014

TO DRONE OR NOT TO DRONE - Part III- So What Really Is "Commercial Use"?

So what really is “commercial use”?

Let’s begin with the FAA guidelines.  FAA recently released a document that included examples of what they considered “hobby” and “commercial” uses of drones.  Let’s look at these examples and see what light they may shed on the subject.

Example 1:  Flying a model aircraft at the local model aircraft club is “hobby”, but receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft is “commercial”.  OK, but what about a “drone competition”, where everyone who enters has to pay a $20 entry fee and the winner gets a grand prize of $200.  Is the winner doing is “commercially”?  Is the group putting on the event “commercial” because they are taking money to have other people fly drones?  Is the result different if the winner gets a free drone as a prize?  What about a free weekend at a local resort?  Is this “commercial”?  What if a major resort sponsored the event and gave away a free weekend at their resort for the grand champion drone flyer, but made all contestants agree that the resort could use their footage they shot during the event.  Does that make the resort fall under “commercial use”?  

I just attended a drone conference in Las Vegas where each day the organizers drew names from a hat and the winner won a free drone.  The organizers didn’t fly any drones but clearly used the lure of a free drone to get attendees there.  What if the organizers had hosted a drone-flying exhibition as part of the conference, and gave away a free drone as part of a raffle, would the “drone-flying” part of the conference make it “commercial”?