5 Crucial questions for hiring drone operators – PT 1 QUALIFICATIONS

Part one
“we have a shoot coming up and need a drone”

Through my experience in this industry with people who had never hired a drone operator, I put together this blog series to educate people on how do more effectively hiring a drone, by know what questions to ask. Of course people who have no experience are getting rarer, but if you’re one of them, or want to fill in gaps in your knowledge – read on!

My name is Drew Cobb, Dronewrx’s head pilot and I’ve been flying drones since 2013. I was working in video playback and when I saw a Phantom 1, with a GoPro 3 on a mechanical gimbal, I knew what I wanted to do with my life and have never looked back. At the time, there were no schools teaching drones, the drones we flew didn’t even come with cameras or video transmission built in, and there was ZERO FAA regulations. My first few drones didn’t have instruction manuals or online tutorials! You had to count how many times the lights flashed to know if it had marked the home point” In fact, when we needed to land, we hit it with a club and dragged it back to our cave. Ahhhh the good ol’ days….

Now here’s a YUUUUGE issue that I see all too often. Productions only know that they “need a drone” and lump all UAV’s into the same category. There are many drones that could be used and your budget combined with what your final output will be; web? TV? Film? will determine which one you need. So you don’t just need a drone…

You need a skilled & licensed pilot that has the correct drone/camera combo that suits your productions needs.

Please read the following blog(s) and allow me to impart some of the knowledge I have gained over the past decade+ and you will soon know exactly what you need. Or you can reach out and we’ll help you get the right drone/pilot for the right price:

Is the drone pilot qualified?

This may seem redundant to some, but to fly drones commercially, a pilot must hold a current part 107 certificate. The part 333 was the first commercial drone license, which also required a licensed pilot to be the PIC (Pilot In Command). Yup, the FAA required an actual pilots license in those early days, and a small number of us passionate individuals went out and got “certificated”.  If a pilot has both, you know they’ve been doing this longer and they’re someone you’d rather be doing business with.

You’ll need copy of their qualifications, to get approval. These are things law enforcement will want to see. In some instances, like flying at a state or national park, They’re gonna have a person whose job is to make sure all paperwork is done correctly, and will actually look for ways to NOT let you fly, so knowing how to talk to those agencies is imperative. Having a good attitude helps. Agencies with absolute power do not take kindly to jerks and fools. They also require actual aircraft insurance which isn’t cheap.

Here’s a big problem in this industry. There has been a glut of pilots entering the market since August 2016 when the FAA changed the requirements, who don’t have a lot of experience and are often willing to undercut and work for peanuts. As we say “the race to the bottom”. I often end up directing the shoots, or suggesting shots that I work on because I know what works and what editors want.

Drones can be an amazing addition to your production; a camera that moves in 3D in the right hands is gold, it’s a dolly, it’s a limitless crane, it’s a helicopter. However, in the wrong hands its an eye-poker-outer buzzing around your talent.

Can they fill out the necessary paperwork?

Drone pilots are notoriously bad at filling out paperwork. In fact I’ve heard some producers say “drone pilots don’t do paperwork”. I see that as the first important part of the process, and are very good at it. “If you can’t get approved, it ain’t gonna fly”. It doesn’t hurt that I was a graphic designer for my first career and Photoshop, In Design, Illustrator, are second nature to me. I actually had a Fire Marshall say to me on a Wayfair commercial “This is the the best paperwork I’ve ever received from a drone operator”. Yes, I design my own branding, website and merch.

If you’re working with a film commission, such as Film LA, you’re going to get a list of requirements and the necessity to fill out questionnaires or submit a POA (Plan of Activity). The way it inevitably happens is last minute, so when you get that email (DUN, DUN DUN) with a list of requirements, your drone operator SHOULD be able to take over and get them what they need within a few hours. The insurance certificate is going to take a day, and should they need a ‘Waiver of Subrogation’ it will take a little longer.

To continue to PART 2 “Are they insured” click here. 

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