ASEC gets OK from FAA to make money off commercial drones

ASEC gets OK from FAA to make money off commercial drones

ASEC gets OK from FAA to make money off commercial drones

By Drew Dixon Tue, Jun 2, 2015 @ 4:22 pm | updated Tue, Jun 2, 2015 @ 4:49 pm

Officials at Aviation Systems Engineering Co. on Jacksonville’s Westside are gearing up to offer commercial unmanned aviation vehicle services — the preferred industry nomenclature instead of drones — as of June 15.

The company has been waiting for years for the Federal Aviation Administration to loosen regulations for the small flying devices to be used on revenue-generating projects.

In May, the FAA granted the company an exemption to prohibitions that have strictly prohibited use of drones in the commercial world.

FAA Flight Standards Service Director John S. Duncan in a written ruling on the ASEC case in May, said the agency granted the ASEC exemption because they found “good cause… in the public interest.”

“It’s a game changer,” said Brent Klavon, Aviation Systems Engineering’s program manager. “In theory, we’re safe and we can provide a legal and authorized service for them [customers].”

The company is not alone in getting the exemption.

Since last fall, the FAA has issued nearly 500 exemptions to companies seeking to use drones for commercial use, meaning they can make money on video or film with cameras fixed to the devices. So many exemptions are being granted, the number of FAA exemptions approved is likely to escalate by the end of the week, agency officials said.

Klavon said Aviation Systems Engineering will use three different professional drones operated by employees with remote control consoles for heavy industrial use. That means the drones can be used for pipeline inspections, train track observations, agricultural monitoring and utility monitoring among the uses.

The exemptions granted in recent months represent a thawing of an icy regulatory relationship between the FAA and companies with UAV capabilities that have been demanding use of their devices for the past couple years.

The drones under review are small remote aircraft that weigh under 55 pounds.

The FAA was concerned the small devices, if multiplied by the hundreds or thousands, could pose a threat to airspace for aircraft carrying passengers. There were also concerns about privacy issues posed by the cameras mounted on the drones and potential threats from them potentially crashing into residential areas.

But slowly, the FAA began to grant exemptions.

In June 2014, the FAA granted the first permission for commercial drone flights over land. The decision allowed drones with cameras to survey oil pipelines over land mainly in Alaska.

In September, the agency issued exemptions for commercial film and video companies to use UAVs to shoot footage for movies. Since then, the number of exemptions has grown exponentially.

While those exemptions are issued, there are still multiple stipulations for the UAV commercial operators: They cannot fly within 5 nautical miles of an airport; they cannot exceed 100 miles per hour in speed; they cannot exceed altitudes of 400 feet (most exemptions are granted for under 200 feet); the UAV must remain within a visual line of sight and a plethora of other regulations.

The Aviation Systems Engineering authorization from the FAA alone contained 31 distinct stipulations their UAV operators will have to follow. With the exemptions flowing, Dorr said applications for FAA authorization are skyrocketing from all areas of industry.

Dorr stressed companies wanting to use drones must still apply with the FAA and operating UAVs for commercial use without FAA authorization can still draw fines. FAA officials on Tuesday they’ve issued fines as high as $10,000 for illegal UAV operation.

Those using drones recreationally to shoot video of a beach area or of a home, for instance, can do so legally without FAA approval. The FAA gets involved when a UAV is generating money for the owner.

Dorr said if anyone wants to make money in any way off a drone, such as many realtors have done, they have to have FAA approval. “If you are flying for any other purpose [other than recreation], even tangentially connected to a business, you need approval from the FAA,” he said.

Smaller businesses such as real estate offices have already made it clear they can’t wait to start using drones to showcase properties.

Nancy Garcia, government affairs director for the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors, said those selling property will seize on the increasing availability of drone technology.

“They’d be useful for commercial properties, multi-stories,” Garcia said. “They’d also be useful for the larger waterfront residential properties so you could get the feel for the wider area of the property. A nice property on the ocean, a potential buyer could get a really good feel before going out there.”

Dorr acknowledged many realtors used UAVs illegally in recent years. But several exemptions already granted have been issued to realtors, he said, and they realize they can now have access to commercial drone use.

Garcia said it’s likely more realtors will apply for the drone operation approval. “I would think you would probably would see some. I know there have been some realtors in other states make use of them unwittingly” without FAA approval, she said.

The application process begins on the FAA website www.faa.gov.uas.

Klavon said the exemption is accessible for most people. But there are still requirements for the operators.

They have to have an airman’s license that’s acquired after a training course and they have to demonstrate competency in using UAVs before the FAA will grant applications.

On a broader scale, Klavon is the vice president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International for the Florida Peninsula Chapter, and said the industry is literally about to take off.

“The FAA is taking a stepping-stone approach to opening up the skies. This [exemption process] is one of those stones,” Klavon said. “Some would say there’s probably too much regulation. …

“Today’s world requires a credentialed pilot and some other things. But in the future, they’re looking at even loosening those reins even more,” Klavon said. “For the commercial users, like myself, I think we have a pretty good understanding of how to operate these safely.”

Drew Dixon: (904) 359-4098

The Florida Times-Union Jacksonville.com