Read this before hiring a drone operator

For the purpose of keeping this blog relatable we will often use the word drone even though the correct terminology is UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). If you’re interested in learning the difference between the two terms, here’s a nice write-up on the subject: Drone vs. UAV. What’s the difference?

Back to the topic at hand – you want to hire a drone operator for some aerial photography or videography work. Here’s what you need to know.

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Is Your Drone Pilot SFOC Certified?

From a legal standpoint, this is the only question you need to ask. If you reach out to someone for aerial photography or videography services and their answer to this question is no, hang up the phone and never speak to this person again! And don’t be afraid to ask to see a copy. The rules can be confusing, but the bottom line is that if someone is being paid to operate a drone, they must have an SFOC.

SFOC stands for Special Flight Operators Certificate and they are issued by Transport Canada. Individuals who want an SFOC must complete a training program and pass a written exam. SFOCs are vital because they equip drone pilots with the tools and knowledge they need to operate safely and in compliance with Canadian aviation laws; e.g. how to read aviation maps, how to identify hazards both in the air and on the ground, how to effectively communicate on aeronautical radio channels, how to prepare emergency response plans for each location, and general safe practices.

In addition to being SFOC certified, pilots can also have different levels of certification that come with certain advantages or benefits when it comes to flying a drone. Complex certification, the type of SFOC Urban Video holds, allows operators to get more use out of their drones and more freedom in the footage they can capture. The complex certification allows Urban Video to fly in areas that would otherwise be off limits. Our drone can be flown at 100 feet within 5 nautical miles of otherwise off limit areas, such as airports, runways, helipads, or waterdromes. Despite these areas being air-traffic sensitive, complex certificate holders are able to fly quite freely as long as they are acting compliantly. Not in range of these areas, our Complex certification allows us to fly 400 feet above ground level.

As the client, why does any of this matter to you?

Anyone commercially operating a drone in Canada without an SFOC is committing a crime the second their drone lifts off the ground. What’s really alarming is that if you, or your company, hire this person, you’re liable if something goes wrong, and something will go wrong! UAVs are prone to operator error and mechanical malfunction. Even experienced drone pilots have incidents. Transport Canada issues fines to drone operators without an SFOC or if they are not acting in compliance with aviation laws. Fines issued can reach up to $5,000 for an individual and $25,000 for a corporation. As a client, make a point of knowing if you are legally allowed to get the shots you are looking for…otherwise it could end up costing you!

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Is Your Drone Pilot Insured?

It’s in your best interest as the client to insure your drone operator carries a minimum of $2,000,000 Aviation Liability Insurance. This covers damage to property or people in the event something goes wrong.

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Is Your Drone Operator Any Good?

If you’re hiring a drone operator for aerial photography or video, let’s assume you don’t want your photos or video to look like garbage. Bottom line; look at their portfolio before hiring them. If they don’t have one, that’s a red flag. Anyone can buy a DJI Phantom and send it into the air with the camera in auto mode – these people are not photographers or videographers. Like any professional photo or video camera, all drones with onboard cameras require some technical knowledge in order to get the best images from them. These cameras must be operated in manual mode, meaning your operator should, at the very least, have a basic understanding of the camera’s various settings (ISO, shutter speed, frame rate, color space, internal sharpening, etc.). There is also an art to having that sexy, smooth motion in aerial videography. When you see jerky aerial footage, you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about.

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What can you expect from your UAV pilot?

• Operators should provide clients with a copy of their SFOC as well as offer to share a copy of their aviation insurance.
• Pilots must be sure to carry out location scouts and site surveys before flying.
• Operators (otherwise knows as PIC, a Pilot in Command – yes, seriously) are legally responsible for providing a Spotter onsite during any shoot.
• Pilots are expected to keep a Pre-Flight Planning Form (this document should include any pre-flight specifications/details, as well as an emergency plan) before flying.
• Operators are not allowed to fly over any properties without having a signed location release form. They must have this form on them on shoot day.
• It is required that an operator provide proper signage on site, warning people that aerial filming is taking place. They are also legally required to carry a first aid kit and fire extinguisher with them.
• Pilots should also touch base with the air traffic services units in their shoot area, prior to operating their drone.
• And most importantly, operators must follow all aviation laws. For example, they should not be flying over roads, and must always keep the UAV in their visual line of sight.

We hope this has answered any of your UAV questions, and that you feel confident in being able to hire a drone operator for your next project.

We would also like to give a huge shout-out and special thanks to our aviation guru Mark at Lockedonsolutions. We highly recommend you give him a call for any of your UAV consultation needs.

Safe and happy flying!