Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Drones are an incredible piece of technology. The Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) industry has gained much popularity over the years, especially in videography and filmmaking. Drone industry growth is partially due to companies like DJI, which have created moderately priced drones with high-quality cameras and user-friendly software.
While they may look straightforward and toy-like, drones are not for everyone. Do a quick web search for drone crashes, and you will find countless examples of accidents. Many of these are due to errors and misjudgments made by the pilot.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the governing body that regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the United States as well as over surrounding international waters. This includes regulation over drone operations.
The FAA collaborates with industry and communities to advance drone operations and integrate them into the national airspace. Whether flying for fun or work, the rules set by the FAA must be followed according to United States law.
Regarding professional film and video production, flying a drone for commercial purposes requires a Remote Pilot Certification. This certification is required to fly your drone under Part 107. A Remote Pilot Certificate is obtained by passing an in-person test at an FAA-approved testing facility. The test covers regulations, airspace, safety, weather, maintenance, preflight, and more.
We are proud to be part 107 certified at Clear Online Video. We apply our aerial knowledge based on FAA part 107 training to provide safe drone video production while capturing breath-taking aerial imagery.
We are big on pre-production, and part of our process includes a detailed preflight checklist before any drone video shoot. Below are a few critical items from that list essential to safe drone video production.
1) Defining the Airspace – The first step to scouting a location for drone video production is determining the airspace you want to fly in. The two categories of airspace are: regulatory and nonregulatory. Within these two categories, there are four types: controlled, uncontrolled, special use, and other airspace.
To keep it simple, we will provide a brief breakdown of each of these airspace classifications.
Controlled airspace consists of 5 classes, including Class A, B, C, D & E. All of these require permission to fly a drone. Contacting the controlling agency for the class of airspace you are flying in is how to receive consent for drone operations. In addition, permission can be obtained by Part 107 certificate holders through approved FAA applications such as ALOFT and Airmap. This includes securing permission to fly close to airports, hospitals, etc.
Uncontrolled airspace or Class G airspace is the portion of the airspace that has not been designated as Class A, B, C, D, or E. Class G is the only airspace that does not require permission to fly a drone. However, drone pilots should remember that visual flight rules (VFR) minimums apply to Class G airspace.
The other (special) designated airspaces are restricted, prohibited, military operations, alert and warning areas.
Prohibited airspace areas are entirely off limit; places like the White House, Camp David, and the National Mall fall under this airspace, and flying a drone in those areas could result in significant fines or even jail time.
Restricted, Military Operations, Alert, and Warning areas are not entirely off limit for flying a drone, but they require prior permission, and pilots should fly with caution in those areas.
Only the FAA can restrict airspace. However, the FAA recognizes that drone safety is a partnership with local, state, tribal, and territorial government entities who have right to regulate where drones are allowed to take off and land. Therefore, local restrictions are another topic to research before any drone video production.
The FAA uses the term "No Drone Zone" to help people identify areas where they cannot operate a drone or unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The operating restrictions for a No Drone Zone are specific to a particular location. Hospitals, national parks, wildlife areas, prisons, and other areas are typical examples of a "No Drone Zone."
It is important to note that these No Drone Zones only restrict taking off or landing and do not restrict flight in the airspace above the identified area. You can find out if airspace restrictions exist where you plan to fly using the FAA-approved apps mentioned above.
Sectional/aeronautical charts and FAA-approved apps provide information on a specific location for airspace classification. It's critical for any drone pilot to identify the airspace they want to fly in. The earlier you know a place for a drone video shoot, the better.
2) Weather Conditions & Temporary Flight Restrictions – When you identify the class airspace and obtain any special permission to fly; an experienced drone pilot will research the local weather conditions leading up to the shoot.
The Remote Pilot Certification training teaches drone operators to understand a Meteorological Terminal Air Report (METAR) and Terminal Area Forecast (TAF). A METAR report includes wind direction, speed, temperature, barometric pressure, and cloud cover. In comparison, a TAF report provides the same weather information as a METAR, plus information relating to whether rapid, gradual or expected temporary changes in some of the meteorological conditions.
In basic terms, METARs and TAFs are essential for drone pilots as they can affect the overall performance and safety of a drone video production. For example, the weather can affect flight time, battery life, operating performance, and visual line of sight. In addition, weather can change rapidly, so pilots must check sites such as Aviationweather.gov to find the current information for the city or location for a drone video shoot.
Another thing to look out for before a drone video production is a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR). TFRs for a specific location include military testing, emergencies, sporting events, wildfires, national security-related events, presidential travel, etc.
TFRs are found on the FAA website. The TFR will provide information such as the operations restricted, size, and the times of the restrictions.
TFRs also include details about who may get approval to fly in them. Only public safety agencies, first responders, and other organizations such as the media may be eligible for approval. To fly in a TFR, drone pilots must apply through the FAA's expedited approval process known as the Special Governmental Interest (SGI) process.
3) Outlining a Flight Plan & Safety Procedures – A must-have for any drone video shoot is a clear flight operation plan discussed with all participants. The procedure includes defining crew roles such as the Remote Pilot in Command (PIC). This person is required to have their part 107 and is responsible for the overall safety ensuring that the drone poses no threat to nearby people, aircraft, or property.
The plan should also include a process for emergencies, accidents, if damage occurs or if someone is injured. A production brief with all participants contains topics such as drone safety, the flight path, and how to behave on a drone video shoot.
While it's not the fun part of flying a drone, accidents can happen. So our drone video productions at Clear Online Video include production business insurance for added safety.
We are as excited as you are to capture drone video footage, but there are rules and regulations that we must follow. This checklist is an example of pre-production that goes into a safe and remarkable drone video shoot.
We have the drone video experience to help you produce a successful aerial shoot. In addition, we are happy to answer any questions about flying a drone and using it for your next video production. Sign up for our newsletter as we continue to cover drone regulations and updates to the industry.