Yes and no. Yes, aerial photography may be legal if you have a pilot’s license. If you don’t have a license, then your wedding drone may not be legal.
Digging through the FAA’s website for a clearer picture is a painful exercise, and the situation is in constant flux. Here’s some commentary from Chris Newman, a professional drone pilot, who has a few ideas on how things might progress through 2016..
Here’s a rundown of important points Chris covers:
• if you don’t further a business interest, you’re considered a “hobbyist” and don’t need a license.
• if you are a hobbyist, all you have to do is register your drone online for $5. (Failure to register as a hobbyist could leave you open for expensive fines if you fly in restricted areas.)
• If you make money flying, or further a business interest, then you are considered to be “commercial”. Wedding aerial photography would fall into this category.
• Commercial flyers need to apply for an FAA 333 exemption to fly legally.
• Commercial flyers are still required to have a pilot’s license at the time of writing.
The industry hopes that the next round of changes will include some changes to the current requirements which are thwarting business. In February, this was published by faa.gov
The FAA is establishing an aviation rule-making committee with industry stakeholders to develop recommendations for a regulatory framework that would allow certain UAS to be operated over people who are not directly involved in the operation of the aircraft. The FAA is taking this action to provide a more flexible, performance-based approach for these operations than what was considered for Micro UAS. The committee will begin its work in March and issue its final report to the FAA on April 1.
It’s up to the FAA to decide what they are going to change based on this report. According to Chris in the video above, there’s a bill working through Congress right now (the Micro-drone Bill) which would allow commercial flying without a 333 exemption, if your drone weighs under 4.4lbs. This would include the Phantom series of drones but there are some arguments as to wether this is accurate.
It seems possible at least and we hope that the requirement to hold a private pilot’s license may eventually ben replaced with a requirement to have professional drone training and a drone license. We hope so because it’s increasingly clear that drone wedding video and photography are destined to become increasingly popular as couples take advantage of UAV technology for their wedding photographs. Until then, if you want to stay legal then your wedding drone photographer will be required to have a pilot’s license.