A Factoryville native is among the first Pennsylvanians to receive official permission to make money by flying drones.
Matt Sandherr, 33, operating under his fledgling business Diversified Drone, received a notice July 24 confirming he was exempt from certain Federal Aviation Administration regulations that would have stopped him from using his drone for commercial purposes.
Drone pilots have been able to fly their crafts as hobbyists for years, though FAA regulations have prohibited commercial use. The agency proposed new regulations in February that would clear the way for more commercial users. For now, seeking exemptions on a case-by-case basis has become the most common way to fly for money. The FAA granted the first exemption in July 2014 and has issued more than 900 since.
Mr. Sandherr’s application was submitted by Joseph Price of Corbett Price Law, a Scranton attorney trying to build his drone law practice. He submitted about 30 pages describing the drone’s airworthiness and Mr. Sandherr’s piloting ability. The user manuals that came with Mr. Sandherr’s DJI Phantom 2 drone were included in the application, he said.
“The Northeast Pennsylvania corridor is ripe for these kind of exemptions,” Mr. Price said. “(FAA officials) look for low-density populations.”
But Mr. Sandherr plans to explore the promise of drone flight outside Northeast Pennsylvania. He sold his Blakely-based car window tinting business, Mobile Tint Inc. Early this month, he packed up his drone and family and moved to Punta Gorda, Florida, where he hopes to start making promotional videos for charter fishermen and real estate firms, among others.
The drone can provide a new perspective on boating into a canal-front Florida property, he said.
“If you shot a nice drone video, you can, for real estate, demonstrate the trip in from the harbor…from an aerial point of view and share that with hundreds,” he said.
He recently made a video for a Florida friend who captains a fishing boat. It includes several aerial views of the boat cutting its way through brackish mangrove swamps.
“It was an amazing set of shots,” Mr. Sandherr said. “It just really illustrated the boat, the harbor, the set of islands.”
Mr. Sandherr began flying drones about three years ago, but has been interested in piloting since his first trip in a small plane around 10 years old. His first solo flight was one of the most exhilarating and terrifying experiences of his life.
“That’s the most incredible experience in the world, when somebody hops out and says, ‘I’ll be listening in on the radio, but if something goes wrong, it’s you,’” he said.
With its relatively low cost and versatility, the drone offers a new set of opportunities.
“It’s such an amazing piece of technology, the possibilities and the uses,” he said.
Around the country, aerial surveyors for farmers, mining companies and the oil and gas industry have received FAA permission, as have filmmakers and advertisers.
Mr. Price hopes other local drone operators will seek exemptions. He has also submitted an application for Access Aerial, started by University of Scranton systems administrators John Culkin and Lee DeAngelis. Theirs has not yet been granted.