You may have recently heard a buzzing sound in the sky, and looked up to see a large metallic, looking insect hovering nearby.
It’s probably a drone. One recently landed on the lawn of the White House, and they’re becoming more and more popular across Greater Houston. Now, the federal government says it’s time to create some rules before the skies become too unruly.
Those rules will affect companies that use drones for various purposes, like advertising agencies. In the past, if you wanted to do aerial photography you’d have to spend hundreds of dollars a day to hire a helicopter. And once you got in the air you were limited in what you could do. But new technology is now helping companies do those elaborate shoots a lot cheaper.
Drone operator Jake Wynant displays a smaller drone used for photography by Newton Design and Marketing in Spring.
We got a demonstration outside the offices of Newton Design and Marketing in Spring. The company currently uses drones to make videos for corporate presentations. We saw their smaller drone in action. It has four rotors and a camera on the bottom. It spins over the rooftops while an operator works the remote control.
Newton’s Rob Neumann says they’ve been using drones for about a year and half, and they can do lots of things they couldn’t do before. But with anything new that comes on the market, Newman says there can be some issues.
“This technology is changing so fast and the price is coming down so quickly, there are lots of people, and lots of people claiming to be able to do this. Their quality varies widely and their capability as pilots vary widely,” says Neumann, the company’s owner.
Newton’s drones are controlled by a trained operator, or as he’s known on their company website, their “video ninja”. Jake Wynant got his training from a drone manufacturer. He says operators need to know what they’re doing because a lot can go wrong if you’re flying around people and buildings.
“With all the failsafes and whatever there is on any rig, it’s still technology and stuff happens,” Wynant says.
The FAA is now taking public comment on proposed rules for drone operators. Those devices have to weigh less than 55 pounds. Someone has to keep an eye on it the entire time it’s flying.
Drones have to stay under 500 feet and they can’t fly at night. Operators would need to be tested for basic aviation knowledge.
Those rules sound good to Jarrett Crump. He sells about seven drones a week at his remote control shop in west Houston. He’s also a licensed pilot.
Crump says all sorts of businesses are getting into drones and it’s essential they have some sort of guidelines.
“I have a lot of customers coming in and saying, ‘Hey can I use this drone to fly above an intersection and have a sign holding it up for my store?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know. Don’t ask me that, maybe ask your lawyer,” Crump says.
The larger of two drones used by Newton Design and Marketing for commercial videography.
That’s just what we did. We met up with aviation attorney Gary Evans at his hangar at Hooks Airport, where he has a law office right next to his airplanes. Evans says one big reason for the drones rules is that you have to keep them away from planes.
“We have airspace, dedicated airspace that we need to use for air commerce. Safety and air commerce require that aircraft not be mixed into the same airspace with the drones,” Evans explains.
Evans adds that drones can be pretty heavy, considering they’re made up mostly of batteries, and if it hits an airplane, the damage could be enormous.
Meanwhile back at the ad agency, Rob Neumann says he hopes drone users will play by the rules, so the industry can grow in a positive direction.
“It’s been an absolutely exciting adventure to be in drone videography and photography because our clients are excited about it,” Neumann says. “And as an advertising agency it’s really about bringing new solutions that are cutting edge to be able to change the way people see and view things.”
It could be a couple of years before the FAA finalizes the new regulations.