Snapshots From the Sky

Flyboy NC

Worldwide sales of private-use drones have doubled in the last year-and-a- half, and the number of amateur and professional photographers employing this new technology has spiked accordingly. Travis Jack, owner of Wake Forest-based Flyboy Photo and Media, attributes the industry’s prodigious growth to easy access to good quality and small, affordable drones. 

“Drone capabilities are growing while prices on decent, entry-level ones keep going down,” Jack explains. It’s like how a new smartphone, computer or TV model inevitably drops in price a few months or years down the road. “Five years ago, [Flyboy] was using a $30,000 rig to do what we can do with $5,500 right now.” 

While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has no stipulations on flying drones for fun, if you were to enlist a drone for business purposes—say, aerial photography—you’d need to be at least 16 years old, have earned your Remote Pilot Airman Certificate and passed federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) vetting. The FAA also has weight regulations for your drone, as well as location requirements and operating rules. 

The industry’s expansion has created a market for qualified businesses and courses that teach private citizens how to fly drones, from Flyboy and similar companies to one-day workshops at Wake Tech and N.C. State. Once you’ve been trained, the sky’s the proverbial limit. (Kinda.)

It’s not as easy as simply strapping an iPhone to your new toy, however. Flying a drone does not a skilled shutterbug make. 

To Jack, the drone itself is a tool, “a flying tripod.” His business is photography-first, with the drone serving as a means to get the camera in the air.

“People learn rather quickly that flying [a drone] does not make someone even a marginal photographer,” Jack says. “If you’re not a photographer first, you probably won’t become one overnight just because you spend a couple grand on a drone.” 

As drones become more affordable and increasingly easy to operate, the market opens up to more and more amateur flyers. Jack, who trains drone pilots, calls flying the easy part but he’s also quick to note that an inexperienced pilot can still crash if he’s reckless or careless. He says it generally takes drone newbies three to four hours.

“They leave with fairly high levels of confidence in their new skill set,” he says. 

At what point do we hit peak drone, though? 

Granted, the ever-changing FAA regulations have kept some would-be drone pilots grounded, but Jack foresees continued industry growth in the future. Growth may not be at the same clip as over the past few years, but considering the falling costs of drone ownership, it certainly looks like they’re here to stay.

“Two years ago, you couldn’t walk into the Apple store, or Best Buy—or even Costco—and get a drone,” Jack says. “But today they have them in stock everywhere.”

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