Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Gray Area in the Wild Blue Yonder: Exemptions for Commercial Drone Operators Called a Stopgap Measure

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Gray Area in the Wild Blue Yonder: Exemptions for Commercial Drone Operators Called a Stopgap Measure

Article excerpt

OKLAHOMA CITY - Tom Kilpatrick wants to promote a market advantage as much as possible before it becomes commonplace: CloudDeck Media LLC was recently granted a Federal Aviation Administration exemption for the commercial operation of aerial drones.

That means Kilpatrick can now legally charge to shoot photos and videos of real estate and agricultural land from as high as 400 feet up, about half the height of the Devon Energy Corp. tower in downtown Oklahoma City. Before the FAA's decision, he could only fly his miniature hovercraft as a hobby enthusiast and was not able to share the media with his clients as a commercial service. That's still true for most other drone operators.

"We'll be heavily marketing this and explaining the differences of what sets us apart from everyone else," said Kilpatrick, who has been a licensed pilot of traditional aircraft for 30 years. "There are a lot of people who are not legally flying drones and shooting pictures on behalf of commercial clients, and those clients don't understand the regulations yet. A lot of people don't."

CloudDeck is one of the latest additions the FAA's growing list of Section 333 regulation exemptions, which allow the deployment of manned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to commercially gather data and conduct research up to the 400-foot ceiling. The FAA has been working for several months to implement the new provisions of Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, "Special Rules for Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems."

At the beginning of the year, such exemptions numbered less than 20; as of Thursday, the FAA's online database showed nearly 1,000 exemptions have been granted. The database is not sorted by state, but a partial survey found at least five Oklahoma exemptions, in addition to Kilpatrick's.

Momentum is growing as the federal government refines the review process; further allowances are expected to increase accessibility even further. For example, the FAA now requires drones to be operated by two people within line of sight, but regulators are considering eliminating the latter requirement for longer-range operations: one person would pilot the craft and the other would navigate by video. …

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