[Editor’s Note: A few of the many examples include examining crops, monitoring construction projects and surveying pipelines.]
This post originally appeared on http://www.pe.com/articles/drone-814699-drones-commercial.html?page=1.
Drones have captured the imagination of fun-loving Southern Californians of all ages, and their utility goes far beyond recreation. They also make money.
Experts say operators are just beginning to scratch the surface of drones’ commercial potential.
In many cases, photography is involved. And it’s easy to see why, said John Goolsby, owner of Riverside-based Godfather Films and a wedding photographer who deploys drones to record dazzling video from dizzying heights.
“When you take a cruise, you always want a cabin with a view of the ocean. When you go to Vegas, you want a room at the top of the hotel. When you fly, you want a window seat,” Goolsby said.
In short, one can see so much more from up above, he said.
And around Southern California, operators are taking advantage of drones’ ability to do that for such diverse dollar-generating purposes as:
• Examining the health of agricultural crops.
• Monitoring the progress of construction projects.
• Documenting the installation of rooftop solar panels, in order to claim federal tax credits.
• Selling commercial, industrial and residential real estate.
• Surveying electric wires, pipelines, railroad tracks, dams and canals for damage.
• Making maps and movies.
• Taking dazzling wedding photographs from a bird’s-eye view.
• Enticing potential visitors to visit tourist hot spots.
Recording sporting competitions and other special events.
Of course, Amazon for some time has been exploring the idea of making aerial deliveries of packages that are ordered online. And this fall Google and the Chipotle Mexican restaurant chain are experimenting with burrito delivery to the delight of hungry college students at Virginia Tech.
“I have never seen an industry change as fast as this one,” said Tim Baur, chief pilot for RadFlight, a drone training business in Long Beach.
In short order, drones have revolutionized life in the U.S.
And, of course, there have been abuses. Since summer 2015, beginning with an alarming report in the San Bernardino Mountains, there have been numerous instances in which rogue drones have interfered with firefighting helicopters and planes, or nearly missed airliners.
In response, lawmakers have introduced a flurry of drone legislation to rein in abusers.
So far, Gov. Jerry Brown has largely vetoed efforts. On Thursday, for example, he vetoed a bill to mandate geofencing technology that would automatically steer drones away from airports and fire zones.
But Brown did sign a bill by Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, to grant civil immunity to a first responder who destroys a drone while fighting fires, conducting a search-and-rescue mission or flying an injured person to a hospital.
CROSSING THE LINE
Nationally, the federal government has been under pressure for some time to establish an orderly process for getting permission to fly drones commercially – to make money. And on Aug. 29, the FAA began issuing drone-pilot licenses to commercial operators.
Already, about 14,000 people have applied to take the FAA’s drone pilot exam and more than 5,000 have passed it.
Still, those numbers pale in comparison to the 550,000-plus drone operators who have registered as hobbyists under a system the FAA rolled out nine months ago.
“What’s most interesting is that you have so many registered as hobbyists and so few registered as commercial,” said Harrison Wolf, an aviation safety instructor at USC and drone consultant.
Wolf said he suspects many hobby operators are dabbling in commercial use, as the money-making line is easily crossed, and haven’t sought commercial licenses.