In a little more than a week, a new Federal Aviation Administration rule takes effect that lowers the barrier for commercial use of small drones — those weighing 55 pounds or less — that could affect Wichita businesses providing services using unmanned aircraft.
The Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule lowers the qualifications of the person operating the drone commercially from holding a recreational or sport pilot certificate, which require classroom time, flying with an instructor and completion of a solo flight.
Instead, the new rule that takes rereeffect Aug. 29 requires the pilot to hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS (unmanned aircraft system) rating, which is awarded after passing a written aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center.
Other requirements are that the applicant be no younger than 16 years old and be checked by the Transportation Security Administration.
The new rule could have mixed effects on business at Blue Chip UAS, its CEO Andrew Fawcett said Friday.
“We’re basically going to be competitors with the clients we’ve been working for,” said Fawcett, whose company was the first in Wichita to receive an FAA exemption to use drones for commercial purposes.
Blue Chip operates commercial-grade drones and offers services such as topographical surveying and three-dimensional mapping as well as filmmaking.
Fawcett said because the new rule’s pilot requirements are less stringent than the ones in the FAA’s Section 333 exemption — a rule put in place by the FAA for commercial drone use while it was working on the Small UAS Rule — Blue Chip could lose some of its clients. He thinks some of them could opt to train their own employees and purchase their own aircraft instead of paying someone else. Long-term, though, they may not want the hassles of maintaining aircraft, training pilots and dealing with the paperwork of those activities, Fawcett said.
“That was an initial thought I had,” he said.
RSM Marketing also spent the time and money to obtain a Section 333 exemption so it could use drones for video production for its clients.
“Early on it was important for us to meet the standards,” RSM managing partner Bruce Rowley said.
He doesn’t consider the cost of getting an exemption, including pilot training for his staff, wasted money.
”We’ve got a lot of hours now, a lot of experience, a lot of great projects we can share with people that show the quality and experience we bring,” Rowley said. “So getting an early start on this was certainly worth it.”