How to Hire a Commercial Drone Operator

Drone Operator for Hire
I’ve spent many years as a commercial photographer in New York City and have provided a varied array of businesses with photos and video for use in visual marketing and advertising. My goal with each client is to help their particular business build and maintain a strong visual presence on the web and in print by using a style and context that will touch their target audience.

This short article is written from this perspective and is meant to help anyone who is in need of hiring a professional FAA approved commercial drone operator for aerial photography or video – whether it be for business purposes or for personal applications such as a weddings and other events.

How to Hire a Commercial Drone Operator for Photography or Video

  1. Look at their Portfolio – Before hiring any visual media professional, you should look through their past work and be sure that you like what you see. Why? Well, you can expect that your final results will be very similar. This isn’t a scientific process, it is very subjective. Look over a portfolio and compare it to others. When you find one or more that you like, you’re ready to make contact with the drone photographer or videographer. Remember that just as in regular photography and video, anyone with the money to purchase equipment may run out and start selling you their services. For this reason, there is an enormous variance in the quality and professionalism of the work out in the market and it makes good sense to look over some media before wasting any time communicating with a drone operator.
  2. Check their FAA Certification – Unlike regular photographers and video professionals, a commercial drone operator must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate legally. The operator must hold paperwork known as an FAA Section 333 Exemption and they must also have a licensed pilot on staff to conduct the drone operation. While it may certainly sound like a bit of overkill to require a real pilot for the operation of a small drone, the FAA’s reasoning is quite simple. Having a licensed pilot present during drone operations insures that the flight(s) conducted are in accordance with all local airspace restrictions. A licensed pilot has something he can lose if he operates illegally or irresponsibly — his license. Hiring an FAA certified drone operator is important in order to help insure that they operate legally and will not expose you or your company to any unnecessary risk or liability. To find out whether the company you’d like to hire holds an FAA certification, just check the complete list of certified companies and individuals here: Authorizations Granted Via Section 333 Exemptions
  3. Make sure the Drone Operator is Insured – While not yet required by the FAA, it is important that any drone operator you hire holds drone insurance. General liability policies and umbrella policies do not cover drone operations unless it is stated on the policy expressly. Chances are your policy will NOT cover a falling drone either, and so it is important that someone hold coverage for this particular type of operation. Over the years I’ve been flying drones – I’ve seen drones drop out of the sky due to various failures a few times. If the drone operator is uninsured and an accident occurs, both the drone operator and you as the hiring party could be held legally responsible for any damage or injury. So the main question to ask is: Why would you expose yourself or your company to increased risk by hiring an operator who is uninsured? Professionals carry insurance.
  4. Compare pricing – This is a given when hiring any contractor! Many individuals shop solely on price when quality is not a primary concern. The search for the lowest bidder happens in every industry and we encounter it all the time with drone operations. As a visual media professional, I of course, would like to be paid as much as possible for my time. So I hold a heavy bias on this topic. Some old crusty photographer stated to me once “They’ll ask you to come out with $10k worth of equipment to shoot, and then offer to pay you a few dollars.” Realize that a professional drone operator – like any freelance photographer or videographer, has significant operating expenses as an individual or small company. These expenses include equipment, liability insurance, travel, merchant fees, data storage, web hosting, advertising, and health insurance — to name a few. Those expenses don’t mean anything regarding value for the client, however. What’s important for a client to look at is the balance of final output, expertise at their craft, customer service, professionalism, and good, solid communication which a visual media professional provides.
  5. Ask for a contract – It is incredible to me how many visual media providers operate without contracts. A contract is designed to protect both parties for the business transaction itself. In the case of photography and video it is essential to have everything in writing from the professional you hire so that there is no question regarding the deliverable you receive once the work is completed. Regarding drone operations, it is extremely important for the client to secure a written contract so that the work to be completed is outlined, and additionally – so that any parties needed to give permission for over-flight of property are listed on that contract. A drone operator may not fly over property for which over-flight permission is not given! Putting this information in writing protects both the hiring party and the drone operator from liability. For example, the drone operator must agree to keep the drone flight over the area which the client has control and ownership of. Should the drone operator deviate from that airspace and crash the drone into a neighboring property, causing damage – a written contract would provide the client with some protection from liability. A drone operator may not expose random persons or property not involved in the operation to risks that they are unaware of!