[Editor’s Note: Kyle Craig, co-owner of Diamond Home Imaging, a real estate photography company, shared that his clients are wowed when they receive the images captured by drone.]
This post originally appeared on http://wlfi.com/2016/12/26/indiana-drone-entrepreneurs-take-advantage-of-new-faa-rule/.
Herschel Zahnd stands in the grass at Jeffersonville’s Big Four Station, fiddling with an object that resembles an iPad attached to a futuristic video game controller.
Hovering above him, another object responds to the commands Zahnd issues with his hi-tech joystick. That object is a drone — a small, white aircraft with four propellers.
Attached to it hangs a 4k resolution camera.
“I use this more as a crane or just (for) establishing shots,” he explains.
Zahnd is a Jeffersonville filmmaker and founder of Renegade Art Productions as well as a drone enthusiast. He’s contracted out his drone flying and shooting abilities to different production companies in the area.
Business is good for Zahnd despite the fact that he has only been able to exchange his drone services for money since October.
In fact, no one in the United States except for those with traditional pilot licenses (and a few who gained special exceptions) were able to operate drones commercially before Aug. 29. Most drone operators, such as Zahnd and his friend, Donnie Yeoman, were “forced to be hobbyists.”
That was the day the Federal Aviation Administration changed the rules.
Now, hopeful drone entrepreneurs can take a test quizzing them on their knowledge of airspace classifications and emergency procedures. If they pass, they can be like Zahnd: enterprising users of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones.
“To me, it was a surprise,” said Yeoman about the rule change. He started using drones in 2015.
That February, Yeoman, whose media business is called MagicDonnie, kept hearing that it was going to happen: the FAA would relax their commercial drone user requirements. Nothing materialized.
But now something has.
A job for a drone
Before the FAA modified regulations, 20,000 drones were registered for commercial use. The agency expects 600,000 to be flying for commercial purposes within the year.
Their decision is predicted to have a $13.6 billion economic impact in the first three years that drones are integrated into the national airspace, according to a 2013 study conducted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The organization also expects more than 70,000 new jobs to be created in that time.
The economic effects will be concentrated in areas with already-thriving aerospace industries, such as California, Washington and Texas, according to the study.
Indiana will still see benefits, however. The total economic impact for the state is expected to be $103,750 in three years. But how will drones be used commercially?
Zahnd’s drone footage has appeared in music videos and work by 180 degrees, a locally-based production company.
Yeoman is a real estate photographer. He takes aerial shots of properties for multiple local clients.
The AUVSI has identified around 40 types of business operations drones are being used for, said Tom McMahon, the organization’s vice president of advocacy and public affairs.
Aerial photography for films and real estate are a couple of examples, as are oil and gas exploration and freight transport, but precision agriculture and public safety are the most promising of the drone markets, according the AUVSI. Drones employed in those areas can spray pesticides and nutrients on plants and deliver medication to places unreachable by regular vehicles.
No matter where drones are used, the results are game-changing.
The shots Mike Fitzer, owner of 180 degrees, gets from a drone are the same he’d have to use a helicopter for in the past — a more expensive option by far, he said.
One of Yeoman’s clients is Kyle Craig, co-owner of Diamond Home Imaging, a Southern Indiana real estate photography business.
Thanks to Yeoman, Craig is now able to provide his clients with expansive photos of their property that they wouldn’t have received otherwise. It’s not the type of service offered by everyone in the real estate world.
“It’s something that every time we deliver our photos plus (Yeoman’s) photos, they’re wowed by them,” Craig said.
Craig wants to start taking his own photos with a drone. Yeoman’s encouraged him to test it out, but it does come with challenges.
“It’s not a question of if you’re going to crash, but when,” Zahnd said.
The unmanned frontier
Challenges still await commercial drone users. The FAA stipulates that operators aren’t allowed to fly their drones over 400 feet, out of the line of sight, after twilight or over people without waivers.
“We are still held back with the rules,” Yeoman said.
Drones have been used by the military since World War II, but they’re still in the beginning stages of commercial use, McMahon said. Uses and regulations are still forming.
For example, scientists are starting to use drones to monitor whales’ health by capturing their breath and Amazon is experimenting with delivering packages via uvas, McMahon said.
When asked whether he considers himself a drone pioneer, Zahnd demures, but Yeoman embraces that characterization.
When he embarks on a drone job, he still has to explain what he’s doing to curious bystanders and throw treats to suspicious dogs.
“I believe the guys that go out today and buy a drone and get into this are still pioneers,” he said. “That’s how baby this industry still is to me.”
“I’ve got chills,” he said with a laugh.