Sky's the limit for commercial drones in North Texas

The sky is the limit for these tiny, unmanned helicopters.

ADDISON — Up close, the parts are miniature. But when they're all put together, the business potential is huge if you have a drone, a camera... and official permission to fly the mechanical bird as a business.

"I think it is going to quadruple almost every year here on out. It's just going to go absolutely crazy," said Daniel Redd, president of RDM Productions based in Addison.

He recently hired extra staff to keep up with the editing demands for all the birdseye images they've been capturing with their fleet of eight unmanned aerial vehicles.

They're shooting commercials for golf courses, cities, and an amusement park. Redd said they've talked with Oncor about helping to visually inspect thousands of miles of electric transmission lines.

"They're doing it in helicopters," he explained. "Drones are a lot cheaper alternative to that."

Oncor confirms they are considering using drones, which are already being employed for things like movie shoots, farming, land surveying, and high-dollar real estate, where aerial images have become as much an expectation as the infinity edge pool.

It might seem like the sky is the limit for commercial drone operators, but there's another limit: They now have to get permission to fly from the FAA, which is still working on a set of comprehensive rules.

Some experts worry if those regulations don't come in the near future, a lot of drone potential could be grounded.

"I am one of those people worried that this thing is going to get bogged down in a quagmire of local regulations," said Colin Snow, founder of Drone Analyst.

Even though more than 700 drone operators nationwide have been given permission to fly since late last year, Snow said the industry still hasn't truly taken off.

"There is just tremendous pent-up demand, and people are expecting drones to provide a great benefit," he said.

The grass already looks pretty green from RDM Productions' vantage point hundreds of feet up. But Daniel Redd is excited to see how much better the landscape might look as his industry matures.

His FAA permission to fly commercially was just granted in May, and doesn't expire for two years. By then, Snow expects new FAA regulations to be in place, and he expects the commercial drone industry to be growing by up to 50 percent a year. That's less than the more optimistic outlooks for the industry, but would still represent tremendous growth.

The FAA hasn't yet released a timeline for when new rules are expected to go into effect.


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