Baltimore’s nascent commercial drone industry has been growing in a gray area for the past few years, experimenting with videos like one that caught last year’s Monument Lighting ceremony from the air and taking on real estate clients while facing the threat of fines from the federal government.
After what felt like a long wait, operators of the commercial unmanned aircraft say the rules proposed Sunday by the Federal Aviation Administration are a good compromise that will eliminate uncertainty while ending some practices, such as flying at night.
“It felt like Christmas,” said Terry Kilby, who is co-owner of the Baltimore aerial photography company Elevated Element and who listened in on the FAA’s conference call announcing the rules. “This is something we’ve been waiting for for years. There were a lot of predictions one way or another; people felt the first set of rules would be much more strict.”
Small-drone operators around the region have been shooting aerial pictures for real estate agents, mapping land for developers, even shooting video for documentaries. Some in the industry believe small drones will continue to become more common, inspecting bridges and cell towers, monitoring crops, and more.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that drones will create 70,000 jobs with an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion in the first three years after their integration into U.S. skies.
But the popularity of unmanned aircraft has outpaced their regulation. While people were allowed to fly drones as a hobby, commercial operators faced the possibility of $10,000 fines.