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Kara's Corner

How I Survived My First Gig as a Certified Remote Pilot

February 23, 2017

In a previous postI explained how I successfully prepared for, and passed, my Part 107 Knowledge Test ― thus allowing me to legally make money from flying a drone. All the hard work was finally over. Or was it? As it turns out, when it comes to flying for profit, and in general, you always need to be fully prepared.

Here’s how I survived my first gig as a certified remote pilot, and the steps I suggest taking for an assignment, regardless of the size or commitment.

Google it

My first gig involved photographing the iconic buildings of Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, CA. During the holiday months the center’s buildings are perennially outlined by bright strings of holiday lights, hung from the base to top, creating a striking silhouette against the twilight sky. Part 107-certified pilot Ryon Lane, whose company genuine was engaged to shoot aerial photography of the center, led the effort to capture the holiday-decorated buildings and the equally-seasonal ice skating rink from various perspectives.

Besides scouting an ideal location to launch my aircraft, I also had to determine the maximum height of the buildings I was covering in case I lost my signal. By setting the Return to Home altitude slightly higher than the tallest structure, it would ensure, in the unlikely event of losing my connection that the drone wouldn’t crash into the side of a building. It’s also worth noting that under Part 107, the maximum allowable altitude is 400 feet above the ground, although higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure.

Have your registration and certificate ready

Print out a copy of your FAA registration number and make sure you also have it marked clearly on your aircraft. If your drone weighs between 0.55 and 55 pounds, you’ll need to register. It takes all of five minutes and costs $5 (that’s a lot of fives). Whether you’re flying commercially or as a hobbyist, this is a requirement … unless you enjoy paying hefty fines.

Once you pass your Part 107 Knowledge Test, your next step is to create an account with the IACRA (Airmen Certification Branch). They’ll issue a temporary certificate until a permanent one arrives in the mail. Having this piece of information printed out and on hand is absolutely critical, so don’t forget to print your temporary certificate.

According to Part 107, you can fly during daylight or in twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting. (Kara Murphy)

Protect yourself

While drone insurance isn’t legally required, it’s highly recommended. Not only will you save money in the event of an unlikely accident, potential clients will take you seriously. genuine has an annual drone liability insurance policy which, for this job, covered Ryon, his drone, and anyone else genuine hires to fly (like me). As is common with most commercial jobs, prior to starting the job, genuine provided Certificates of Insurance (COIs) naming the client as an insured on the policy. An average policy like the one held by genuine provides liability coverage up to $2 million in aggregate losses, coverage for minor bodily injury, and zero deductible. Surprisingly, many policies do not offer coverage for your drone hardware itself, so make sure to ask when researching for a policy to purchase. Suggestions on what type of coverage is right for you go beyond the scope of this post. Treat this thorough guide from UAV Coach as required reading.

Short-term insurance options such as Verifly are also a great alternative if you or your business isn’t ready to shell out for the $1,000+ investment an annual drone liability policy represents.

Hire a visual observer (VO)

While this also isn’t mandatory, it’s highly advisable that you have an extra set of eyes focused on the sky. During my first gig as a certified remote pilot, I was positioning my aircraft to capture the perfect shot when seemingly out of nowhere a tourist helicopter appeared over the skyline in closer proximity to our operation than was comfortable. My VO (who has cat-like ninja skills and reflexes) warned me immediately and I was able to lower my drone and yield the right of way without the helicopter even knowing I was there. Later in the shoot, Ryon’s VO (an equally talented eagle-eye) informed my VO by text message that he was already flying nearby. To maintain our high level of safety I found another spot to operate and we still got amazing images.

Prepare in advance, but have a card on hand

When you’re flying a drone, because the average person doesn’t associate drones with safe and responsible operation, reactions can range from curious to annoyed to hostile (rarely, but it happens). When a neighboring business owner approached us, curious why drones continued flying in the area for an extended period of time, not only had we ensured all site security was notified of the shoot, but we brought business cards with us.

If someone is annoyed or worse by your drone, giving them your card puts them more at ease (and makes the situation easier for you too if you’ve still got a bird in the air). From the card they now know your name, email address, and phone number.

Side note: Make sure your contract with your client requires them to provide notice to all applicable people in the neighborhood/vicinity that they have hired pilots to perform aerial work. It’s all the more helpful to everyone involved.

I hope you find this information useful. If there’s anything you think should be added, please call it out in the comments, below.

Featured image: Kara Murphy


Kara is a Bay Area-based certified remote pilot, marketing consultant, and writer working with clients including DroneDeploy, UAV Coach, Flying Robot international Film Festival, and Wedding Drones. Follow her on Instagram for her more artistic aerial imagery, find out how to hire her here.

Comment On This Article
  • jburnham

    Great article. Thanks!

    …Jay

  • Pingback: Drone360 Blog()

  • http://flavinphotography.com Frank Flavin

    Hi Kara, Thank You for your articles particularly about marketing.
    One comment is about mentioning that one needs Airspace Authorization ?
    As I understand it you need a Airspace Authorization if within 5 miles of an airport.
    Perhaps you don’t run into problem ?
    Thanks again for your articles.
    Frank Flavin Photographer

    • http://iloveitsf.com/ karaemurphy

      Hi Frank, this area I photographed is a good 12 miles north of SFO. There wasn’t any airspace authorization needed. I did have a Certificate of Waiver for nighttime shots, though.

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