Photographers, Videographers, Contractors: New FAA drone rules take effect in August

Back in January, after the FAA had put out its rules for recreational drone use, I wrote an article on rules for noncommercial drone pilots. Recently the FAA came out with new rules (Part 107) for commercial users. These will make it much easier to become a legal drone operator. Here are some of the requirements you’ll want to know about.

What isn’t covered?

First, a word on what these rules won’t do. They will not allow Amazon to start a large scale drone based home-delivery service. This is because the new rules only allow for operation within line of sight – like the recreational rules. While the full spectrum of FAA licenses and rules, and their authority to grant special permits and exemptions, may have room for Amazon and others in the package delivery space to use remote drone operation, that won’t fall under Part 107.

They also do not permit use near airports, indoors or at night.

Noncommercial drone users – anybody using drones in a way that is unconnected to business or organizational use – is covered under the earlier rules.

Who should pay attention to the new rules?

Anybody who wants to use drones in connection with business, professional or organizational activities. Two of my client bases are among the industries most directly affected. For photo and video creators, drones provide opportunities to shoot from angles and locations that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to access. And many people don’t realize this, but the second biggest commercial user of drones is the construction industry, where they are used to survey site conditions and make observations of parts of a job that are difficult to get to.

Let’s start with the benefits.

Under the new rules, you don’t need a pilot’s license or a special exemption, just a permit that you can receive after passing a knowledge test and being cleared by a Homeland Security background check. Flight in most areas that are not densely populated or near an airport is allowed without a special permit, and operation near an airport can be cleared by the local airport authorities.

And the drawbacks?

Getting a commercial remote piloting certificate, while easier than getting a pilot’s license, will require some amount of study, paperwork and a test. And commercial drone operation will have restrictions: no use over uninvolved people (ruling out most city use without careful planning), or inside, or from a moving vehicle, or at night, or during twilight without running lights. And no use outside of line-of-sight. So even though live video feeds and sophisticated apps allow for flying a drone by “instruments only” is possible, and some photographers have been using such systems, neither the recreational nor the commercial drone rules permit their use. However, given the interest in delivery drones by some well funded and influential corporations, it is likely that in the next few years we will see the introduction of another class of license allowing remote commercial use.


If you wish to use a drone in connection with a business, get certified. While the certification test will not be available until August 29th, you can start reviewing materials that will be on the test here. (Free registration required.) More information on certification is available here and if you want to see the full text of the rules, they are available here.

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