We live in the age of technology. The age where tech has become affordable and main stream for the average joe to acquire. We have made leaps and bounds in the advancement of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) and GPS solutions providing control and reliability for the weekend warrior to be able to purchase a drone. Many of these people decide they can start taking pictures and video with their drone and get paid on the side for their images. What many don't know are the vast regulations already set out by the FAA to mitigate the risk of these drones from blending into the current National Airspace System (NAS) affecting full scale aircraft. At a minimum, even for hobbyist's, drones must be registered with the FAA and general rules must be followed. Failure to register your drone could lead to a hefty fine, $27,500 to be exact. We've outlined a laundry list of things to look for and why to hire a licensed and insured drone operator.
Look at their Portfolio – Before hiring any visual media professional, you should look through their past work and be sure that you like what you see. Why? Well, you can expect that your final results will be very similar. This isn’t a scientific process, it is very subjective. Look over a portfolio and compare it to others. When you find one or more that you like, you’re ready to make contact with the drone photographer or videographer. Remember that just as in regular photography and video, anyone with the money to purchase equipment may run out and start selling you their services. For this reason, there is an enormous variance in the quality and professionalism of the work out in the market and it makes good sense to look over some media before wasting any time communicating with a drone operator.
Check their FAA Certification – Unlike regular photographers and video professionals, a commercial drone operator must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate legally. The operator must hold paperwork known as an FAA Part 107 License. While it may certainly sound like a bit of overkill to require a real pilot for the operation of a small drone, the FAA’s reasoning is quite simple. Having a licensed pilot present during drone operations insures that the flight(s) conducted are in accordance with all local airspace restrictions.A licensed pilot has something he can lose if he operates illegally or irresponsibly — his license. Hiring an FAA certified drone operator is important in order to help insure that they operate legally and will not expose you or your company to any unnecessary risk or liability.
Make sure the Drone Operator is Insured – While not yet required by the FAA, it is important that any drone operator you hire holds drone insurance. General liability policies and umbrella policies do not cover drone operations unless it is stated on the policy expressly. Chances are your policy will NOT cover a falling drone either, and so it is important that someone hold coverage for this particular type of operation. Over the years I’ve been flying drones – I’ve seen drones drop out of the sky due to various failures a few times. If the drone operator is uninsured and an accident occurs, both the drone operator and you as the hiring party could be held legally responsible for any damage or injury. So the main question to ask is: Why would you expose yourself or your company to increased risk by hiring an operator who is uninsured? Professionals carry insurance.
Compare pricing – This is a given when hiring any contractor! Many individuals shop solely on price when quality is not a primary concern. The search for the lowest bidder happens in every industry and we encounter it all the time with drone operations. As a visual media professional, I of course, would like to be paid as much as possible for my time. So I hold a heavy bias on this topic. Some old crusty photographer stated to me once “They’ll ask you to come out with $10k worth of equipment to shoot, and then offer to pay you a few dollars.” Realize that a professional drone operator – like any freelance photographer or videographer, has significant operating expenses as an individual or small company. These expenses include equipment, liability insurance, travel, merchant fees, data storage, web hosting, advertising, and health insurance — to name a few. Those expenses don’t mean anything regarding value for the client, however. What’s important for a client to look at is the balance of final output, expertise at their craft, customer service, professionalism, and good, solid communication which a visual media professional provides.
Ask for a contract – It is incredible to me how many visual media providers operate without contracts. A contract is designed to protect both parties for the business transaction itself. In the case of photography and video it is essential to have everything in writing from the professional you hire so that there is no question regarding the deliverable you receive once the work is completed. Regarding drone operations, it is extremely important for the client to secure a written contract so that the work to be completed is outlined. Putting this information in writing protects both the hiring party and the drone operator from liability. For example, the drone operator must agree to keep the drone flight over the area which the client has control and ownership of. Should the drone operator deviate from that airspace and crash the drone into a neighboring property, causing damage – a written contract would provide the client with some protection from liability.
We hope this gives you a general idea of what to look for and why you should consider hiring only Licensed and Insured drone operators. It's easy to purchase equipment and call your self a professional, but quality and true professionalism always shows itself in the end.