Tips On Operating A Drone For Your Business

Effective August 29, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has eased restrictions on the commercial use of drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Previously, business owners were required to apply for waivers to use drones for commercial purposes on a case-by-case basis. These revised rules open the door for business owners to use drones for purposes such as aerial real estate photography or videography, safety inspections, or local package delivery services.

Operating a Drone for Your Local Business

There are several things you should know before providing aerial tours of your real estate listing or strapping a pizza onto your quadcopter for delivery. First, the person operating the drone (or supervising its operation) will typically be required to pass an aeronautical knowledge test to obtain a “remote pilot certification.” This test covers material such as applicable regulations, emergency procedures, and aircraft performance under various conditions. Hawai`i currently has three testing center locations in Honolulu — see the FAA website for details on registering. Second, commercial drone users will be required to comply with the small UAS requirements of 14 CFR 107, which restrict everything from the drone’s specifications to flight location, operation times, and package contents. Here are just a few of the applicable restrictions for commercial drone use:

Important Rules for Commercial Drone Operators (See 14 CFR 107 for complete rules)

  1. All unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs (including any property transported for compensation or hire).
  2. Unmanned aircraft must be kept within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls.
  3. Unmanned aircraft may only be flown during daylight hours, or between 30 minutes before official sunrise and 30 minutes after official sunset, with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
  4. Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level.
  5. No careless or reckless operations.
  6. No carriage of hazardous materials.
  7. Operator must hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be under the direct supervision of a person holding a remote pilot certificate.

Be sure to review the FAA rules and guidance materials in their entirety if you are interested in flying drones for business purposes. Rules for model aircrafts used for non-commercial purposes are available here.


Jasmine M. Fisher is an Associate Attorney licensed in Maryland and the District of Columbia.