Can anyone give me a better idea of the specific requirements for commercial use of drones for GIS work? What would be required of the pilot?

Edit: I'm also looking for more insight into when the Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking goes into effect. I'd interested in operating smaller (<55 lbs) drones which would hopefully not require an FAA license.

  • 4
    In what country?
    – Blerg
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 20:47
  • USA, CA in particular Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 21:35
  • Laws on UAVs are very different from state to state and country to country and are constantly changing. Here in Australia CASA controls airspace and has very tight controls on where and how high a drone can and can't fly, perhaps your state or country has an aviation safety regulatory agency which would be your primary point of contact... any advice you get here would be good but I wouldn't stake a lawsuit on it, get it 'straight from the horses mouth', read it, understand it and then ask questions. Be sure to check periodically to see if any laws have changed - better to be safe than sued. Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 21:51

2 Answers 2


Not a lawyer, and I might be missing some things but what you'll need is:

An airworthyness certificate for your UAS platform. The major vendors have gone through this process so you shouldn't have to worry about it.

A Section 333 Exemption

For each flight you'll need a Certificate of Authorization

The operator needs a pilot's license, a sportsman / recreation license is sufficient.

Other things to consider is if you're flying over populated areas your Certificate of Authorization is going to need to detailed information on your safety plans. Also, the operator is supposed to maintain visual line of sight contact with the UAV at all times.

For more information see the Section 333 FAQ and the Section 333 page in general on the FAA's website.

  • I was just about to post those FAA sites. Here is one additional one that links to the FAA rules about commercial, governmental, and private drones just in case anyone is interested. faa.gov/uas
    – ed.hank
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 21:14
  • And one more interesting article that lays out many of the legalities in lay-mans legal terms. geospatial-solutions.com/…
    – ed.hank
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 21:15
  • I'm looking to get further clarification on the requirements for a pilots license, it looks like the recent FAA ruling is changing that need and making one for drone pilots in particular but I couldnt find more on it. Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 21:36
  • These rules apply to UAV/UAS under 55 lbs. Supposedly they are working on creating rules for smaller systems, say under 5 or 10lbs which would wave the license and line of sight requirements but nothing concrete has come out on that which puts the timeframe for the actual rules 1-2+ years out. Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 14:28

The things you will need to consider:

  • Jurisdication - Canada isn't too onerous. The US had been a no-go, but that may have slackened. Start with the Dept. of Transportation in your location.
  • Type of UAV - The weight, size, navigation components often determine the rules for flight, the operator certifications.
  • Location - All over private land, often is different than public (Gov't). Populated versus vacant.

And lots more to consider. Many areas have UAV advocacy groups that can help as well as companies that can be contracted to deal with all the legal / permitting paperwork or strategy.

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