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Local business owner who uses drone for work weighs in on FAA changes to come in August

Posted at 4:27 PM, Jun 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-26 20:12:06-04
It's a unique take on the traditional snap-shot: capturing pictures and video with a drone. 
"Being a 'hobby-ist' photographer before, I could never get any paying jobs," said Robert Luscumb. "There is so much competition, but the drones set me apart."
Luscumb has been in business for about a year where he facilitates drones operation for his company, Desert Sky Photography of Tucson.
It took some time to get started though because he had to apply for an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration.
"I had to prove to the FAA that my business was essential to Tucson economy that the business that I would be doing was not just for 'hobbying' or things like that," Luscumb explained. "That it actually served a purpose."
He cited his purpose as cinematography, inspections and agriculture surveying. 
But, the rules are now taking off in a different direction.
Commercial owners with drones weighing less than 55-pounds will soon be able to fly without special permission.     
But, Luscumb said, he is looking forward to the new competition to come. 
"Now, I know I need to up my game a little bit because I've got some people that are going to be coming up - some probably very good photographers and videographers that now can use the drone to accent their work," Luscumb said. "So I have to step up my game."
Since 2014 the FAA has granted more than 6,100 waivers and another 7,600 are waiting for approval. Many more small companies have been using drones without FAA permission, say industry officials.
Unless those operators make a serious mistake that brings them to the FAA's attention, there's not a lot the agency can do to track them down. The new rules would provide an easier way for those businesses to operate legally.
The rules also would effectively lift the lid on flights by other potential operators who have held off using the technology - real estate agents who want bird's-eye videos of properties, ranchers who want to count cattle and a multitude of other businesses.
Under the new rules, operators must register their drones online and pass an aviation knowledge exam for drone pilots at an FAA-approved testing center. That would give them a drone pilot certification that's good for 24 months. That's a big change, since operators currently have to have a manned aircraft pilot's license. Operators must also present identification for a security vetting similar to that applied to general aviation pilots.
Operators also have to follow many of the rules that apply to model aircraft hobbyists, including keeping drones within sight at all times and not flying over people or higher than 400 feet. Speed would be limited to about 100 mph. The minimum age for commercial operators would be 16.
Drone flights will be permitted during the day. They will be permitted at twilight only if the drone is equipped with anti-collision lights. Operators could still seek waivers for nighttime flights. Drone industry officials have long complained that restricting drone flights to daytime precluded a great many uses like some search and rescue operations, agricultural operations best done after dark and roof inspections of commercial building roofs that use heat sensors.
The rules would still prevent delivery drones from flying across cities and suburbs clasping small packages, in part because that would entail flying over people. Amazon and Google announced two years ago that they are working on drone delivery systems for goods purchased online, and Google officials have said they expect deliveries to begin sometime in 2017.
Earlier this year, the Senate passed an aviation bill that would require the FAA to issue regulations within two years to enable drone deliveries. The House has been unable to pass its own version of the bill due to unrelated controversies.