Faced with the constantly changing landscape of Federal Aviation Administration policies regarding unmanned aerial vehicles -- commonly known as drones -- Fripp Island real estate broker Whit Suber follows a well-practiced approach.
"I ignore it," he said.
He was only half-joking, as he and others in the Lowcountry using drones with cameras for both professional and personal uses are keeping an eye on policies and lawsuits being decided on a national level.
Current FAA policy allows the use of drones for recreational purposes; public service, such as police activities; and other limited uses. A rewrite of the policy to allow some commercial uses has not been completed, according to the FAA.
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The FAA also is appealing a federal judge's ruling that the agency had no authority to fine a man $10,000 for using a drone to create a publicity video.
WAITING FOR GUIDANCE
Meanwhile, drone operators are waiting -- some more patiently than others.
Steven Wollwerth of Lady's Island used remote-controlled helicopters to capture aerial footage for his business, Wollwerth Films, for four years. Then an inquiry to the FAA about regulations and a special permit for a project halted him a year ago.
"The FAA contacted me directly and told me that if I'm operating, I'm doing it illegally because I'm operating commercially," he said.
Wollwerth had thought he was in the clear because he was following the policy put out in 1981 -- the most recent he could find. It didn't address commercial usage, he said.
Since then, he's had to turn down a number of jobs -- some quite lucrative -- but still plays with his drones to take footage mainly for personal use. Sometimes that will end up in videos for clients, he said, but he does not charge for it.
When he began, he was one of only a few videographers experimenting with drone cameras, and it took him two months to build his own. As a licensed pilot and father of young children, he said he's very aware of the safety concerns drones raise. That's one reason Wollwerth carries $1 million in liability insurance.
However, Wollwerth said he is more concerned about damage that might be caused by the hobbyist who buys a drone off the Internet and knows little about FAA rules.
"The FAA is being cautious like a shotgun," he said. "They're not even giving the responsible operators like myself that want to do things right a chance."
He hopes the FAA comes up with permitting to allow commercial use, so he can be among the first to receive one.
Although Wollwerth's major concerns are with the national policy, Ryan Greco of Hilton Head Island said he has run into problems locally while filming for his Moonlight Productions company. The island's beach ordinance prohibits motorized vehicles, according to town staff attorney Brian Hulbert.
"Of course, a drone is a motorized vehicle, so drones would be prohibited on the beach," Hulbertsaid.
The ordinance allows people to request a permit, but no one has. Violations for breaking the beach ordinance range from a $500 fine to 30 days in jail, Hulbert said.
Greco said he tries to be safe and respectful when flying, including observing the 400-foot FAA height limit on recreational drone use and letting people nearby know what he is doing.
"There's been multiple incidents when I've been asked to do it and I just couldn't, for the fact that we're too close to an airport or there's a lot of people out."
The city of Beaufort, town of Port Royal, town of Bluffton and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said they are not aware of any other local restrictions on drones.
Beaufort County Airports Director Jon Rembold said no drone problems have been reported at either of the county's airports, on Lady's Island and Hilton Head Island.
"It's something we're keeping an eye on, but at this point, it's not a problem that's been identified," he said, adding that he's also keeping an eye on FAA policy. "... Sooner or later, we're going to have to figure out how to deal with these."
If operating near an airport, the drone user should contact the facility, he said.
The commercial uses for drones vary widely. Suber uses his to market property and said he recently sold a second home virtually sight-unseen by using drone footage. The videos give prospective buyers a feeling of being there by offering unique perspectives, he said.
Brian Patty shot aerial video of a Shark Tooth Fairy Hunt at The Sands in Port Royal this summer, but said he originally bought his drone to film roofs for his business, Armour Metals roofing manufacturer.
Wollwerth sees other potential commercial applications for drones, ranging from checking pipes and tall structures for damage to attaching an infrared camera to film fields and identify areas that need more water.
He's also been asked by firefighters about search-and-recovery operations, when a drone with a camera could be used to find someone lost in the marsh or on the water.
"Is the issue flying it, or is the issue commercial?" he asked. "Because (the FAA is) destroying a multibillion dollar industry."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.