Archive for December 4, 2013

The drone economy is booming abroad and an underground version is growing fast in the U.S. The FAA plans to draw up regulations by 2015, but that’s not quick enough, according to drone entrepreneurs.

SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos says in the future drones delivering packages will be as common as mail trucks. But for many entrepreneurs, the drone economy is already here.

“There are many people out there making extraordinary amounts of money,” says Gene Robinson, who uses drones to help authorities with search and rescue missions. “You can even get liability insurance to operate now.”

While the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t yet drafted regulations for the futuristic unmanned devices and limits their commercial use, some players have already plunged in:

Real estate specialist Manie Kohn uses drones to video luxury properties. Terence Reis flies them to photograph surfers. Brad Mathson monitors farmland in the Dakotas, while Ryan Kunde uses a drone to improve production at his vineyard.

Bezos thrust drones into the spotlight when he talked about his plans to use them to deliver packages on 60 Minutes Sunday night. But thanks to drones’ ability to shoot aerial photos and video steadily and collect other data cheaply, they are already being used in many sectors, including movie making, sports, mining, oil and gas production and construction.

Most of the activity is outside the U.S. because of regulatory uncertainty. But there are a lot of U.S. drone operators who are either hobbyists, or who provide drone services for free or in return for donations. Business owners can also operate their own drones for their own benefit. And at times, money changes hands out of the FAA’s gaze.

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