Does it really matter who takes my drone photos?
Drones are becoming a part of everyday life. Drones are
now delivering packages in the US, delivering medical supplies to remote locations around the world, and being used to capture aerial images that were once only accessible by plane or helicopter. According to the FAA, there are over 850,000 registered drones in the US, and that does not account for unregistered drones, or drones less than 250 grams and used only recreationally. All drones for commercial use must be registered, regardless of weight.
These regulations are about public safety. The reality is that drones have damaged aircraft and injured people. Every incident that we have ever seen reported was caused by a non-certified pilot flying in an unsafe manner, in restricted airspace, or over people. To combat unsafe flying by recreational users, the FAA released the TRUST test in June of 2021 that is required to be taken by ALL drone operators. The exam comes with training and is free. It covers a variety of topics, like max flight altitude (400' AGL or above an object the operator is within 400' of), not flying over people, not flying in fog (no matter how cool the pictures might be), and other things to consider when operating a drone. It is a great information test and for the average user, takes no more than 30 minutes to complete. If you have a drone already or would just like to better understand what drone pilots can and cannot do, check out the TRUST test.
With the proliferation of drones, it is tempting to hire your friend or techy nephew to take a couple of quick pictures for you. It's just a flying camera, right? And you don't need any special certifications to take photos. That is true, until the images are taken from a device that is not connected to the ground. Images taken from a drone that are not purely for personal use do not qualify under the recreational exemption. That means the pilot has to have an FAA sUAS Part 107 certification, or both the pilot and the person they are flying for can face fines.
The Drone Service Provider Alliance wrote an excellent article, An open letter to Realtors and Real Estate Agents (& agency owners) in the fall of 2021 that contains more details including a response from the FAA that confirms the fines. If you would like to ensure you are only hiring a certified drone pilot, you can verify through the FAA at their Airmen Inquiry page. Protect yourself and your business by only hiring certified and insured sUAS operators.