The state of North Carolina is wrestling with how it will use and regulate Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS devices — popularly known as drones — with great potential consequence for the industry in the region. But do you know there are drones buzzing around the Triad right now?
Probably not many, of course, but the private sector is getting in the UAS game — operating under strict-but-not-necessarily-clear rules about where drones can fly and what they can do. Different rules apply to “hobbyists” versus commercial operators, and Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to work out how drones can be integrated into U.S. skies by 2015, though a court ruling earlier this month has called its authority to regulate small drones into question.
Kevin Eller, president of Greensboro-based K2 Productions, has been trying to keep up with the twists and turns of UAS regulations for the past two years, since he plunked down about $30,000 to buy a Cinestar 8 Octocopter. That device uses two people on the ground — one pilot and one camera operator — to film for commercials, real estate promotions, and other events.
Eller says to make sure he’s operating safely and within the rules, his firm uses the drone only at relatively low altitudes and over private property. Clients call for its services on average about once a month, most recently for a commercial shoot for GE near Asheville, NC.
“That was really cool! The ad agency from New York was really blown away by the capabilities of the drone,” he says. “You can do a lot more, get a lot closer, and not have near as much danger involved versus using a helicopter.”
“It’s a heck of a lot cheaper, too,” he adds. A 10-hour day shooting with the drone generally costs between $2,000 and $3,000, where a piloted helicopter might cost $5,000 an hour for filming. The octocopter can’t go as high or fly in high winds or rain, though.
Staying within the rules isn’t too big a burden, Eller says, though the fact that the technology is new and the regulations not well known can lead to some confusion. And he doubts whatever rules are finally settled on private operators will cause many problems either, though that is a possibility.
“I don’t think using drones will be an issue because more and more people are using drones, but a lot of people are nervous about them for privacy reasons,” Eller says. “It’s fine to have laws and regulations as long as they’re reasonable and we’re still able to use the tool.”