It is seminar and convention season in the RV world and many park owners will meet up and learn from others about what works and what does not. One of the biggest trends heading into 2016 is the use of drones to create overhead views of campground and RV park properties… but that trend is going to end badly and possibly expensively for some unlucky park owners.

Drone prices have plummeted as more and more makers flood the market with options. With smart shopping and deal searching park owners can purchase an air worthy unit in the sub five hundred dollar range. Strap on a GoPro or similar HD camera, send it up above your customers heads, and suddenly you have a cool looking aerial video of your RV park.

This is where the problems begin. The FAA has come down hard on drone operators and is currently drafting rules on their use. In one high profile case in New York City a drone operator was fined $1.9 million dollars for violating the rules. Before we get further into the rules it is important to define who you are and your intended use of the drone. As a park owner using the drone to create a promotional video you are:

  1. A commercial enterprise
  2. Filming over an area open to and filled with the “public”
  3. Utilizing an unmanned aerial vehicle

As of right now some argue that because “drones” are operated with remote controls they therefore fall under model aircraft rules. If that argument holds any water it runs into problems with this legal guidance: “FAA guidance says that model aircraft flights should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas.” Unless your park is completely empty and borders abandoned/ empty properties you will have real problems here.

The next argument is that you are operating the drone as a hobbyist or for recreational usage and happened to take some video that can be used for marketing. The rules are a bit fuzzy here but you, as the park owner, manager, or employee are going to have a tough time with this argument. First off you have to adhere to the “away from populated area” rule and the fact that you will be using the footage for marketing purposes pretty much destroys this argument altogether.

As a commercial enterprise you need to gain an allowance to operate your drone following one of these three methods:

  1. Special Airworthiness Certificates – Experimental Category (SAC-EC) for civil aircraft to perform research and development, crew training, and market surveys. However, carrying persons or property for compensation or hire is prohibited. For more information, please contact the Airworthiness Certification Service, AIR-113, at 202-267-1575. 1,3
  2. Obtain a UAS type and airworthiness certificate in the Restricted Category (14 CFR § 21.25(a)(2) and § 21.185) for a special purpose or a type certificate for production of the UAS under 14 CFR § 21.25(a)(1) or § 21.17. 7,8
  3. Petition for Exemption with a civil Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for civil aircraft to perform commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments.

The FAA suggests that the process from application to acceptance will take anywhere from 2 months to 1 year. As a bonus IF you do receive permission the operator of the aircraft has to hold a pilot certificate… ie they need to be a pilot.

So what about all these other parks that have already done this themselves? The answer is they are lucky… so far. The videos look cool but is the risk and liability worth it and do potential customers actually care? The official rules on drones are set to come out this next year and it is looking more likely that they will be even more restrictive than the temporary one currently in place. In the meantime it is our professional opinion that you should save your money and just shoot your video from ground level.

Mark Koep is the Founder and CEO of a company with over 2,000 RV parks and campgrounds on film for campers to see. Learn more at