2. Ask Some Questions
To further assess the knowledge of a potential contractor, ask them to give you a basic overview of the rules . Ask them how they determine whether a flight is legal, and under what conditions they would need to apply for a waiver. Ask for a copy of their operating manual. Get a sense of how they approach regulations and safety practices, to see whether they’re simply – pardon the pun – flying by the seat of their pants. Here are a few sample questions you might ask:
What is the maximum altitude for a drone? (A: Generally, 400 feet)
When can you fly a drone above people? (A: Never, unless you’ve obtained a waiver from the
In most cases, what class of airspace are you allowed to fly in? (A: Class G, unless you’ve obtained a waiver from the FAA)
How do you ensure your aircraft are well maintained? (A: They should have some sort of tracking system for when maintenance was performed.)
3. Ask for Proof of Insurance
General liability insurance is a must when operating a drone commercially. Not only is it a sign that the freelance pilot is a professional, but it also indicates that the contractor is committed to best practices and has gone through the process of proving the safety of their operations to an insurer. In order to get the best rates, the freelance pilot should develop a robust safety protocol and a thorough general operating manual. Not to mention, it absolves the broadcast company of potential liability for damages to a third party in the unlikely event of a crash or accident.
4. Request Drone Footage Clips
Since drones are a relatively new addition to the media toolkit, it may be difficult to find freelancers with an extensive portfolio. Nevertheless, their capabilities should not just exist in theory; they should be proven with high-quality footage and many hours of flight time. Requesting drone footage clips will provide the opportunity to evaluate the quality of the pilot’s work and allow the employer to see if the freelancer can fly with smooth movements, which ultimately results in higher quality footage and safer flights. You should also make sure the pilot isn’t flying too high and that he/she can track an object on the ground. This is especially important in the news industry because unlike construction or engineering, you often can’t go back to get that aerial footage of a breaking story.
5. Check Flights Against a Drone Airspace Map
When your pilots submit footage, either as part of the interview process or for an actual story, ask them for a flight plan, some coordinates, or even a nearby landmark. Simply plug that information into a validated, updated airspace map, and you can see whether the flight was performed within the bounds of the law. Of course, sometimes you can tell simply by looking at the footage that it was obtained illegally. If the flight was performed at night, or over crowds of people, or it shows a major airport, then odds are (unless the pilot obtained a waiver from the FAA) that you shouldn’t work with that freelancer.