It’s a common topic of discussion among our community of drone pilots—how do you make yourself heard by legislators ruling on drones in your local area?
We recently had a discussion with Cheri Gagne, who staunchly advocates for safe and responsible drone use in her home state of Minnesota.
She is an active member of the Minnesota Drone Advocacy Council (MNDAC), a successful drone real estate photographer, and is in the early stages of launching her own drone services business. In our interview we discuss the changing landscape of drone regulations and the importance of communicating with your local legislators. She shares some specific ways individual drone pilots can impact drone legislation in their city, but before we get into that, let’s get to know Cheri a bit better.
Getting to know Cheri Gagne
In addition to starting up her drone services business, Cheri is also a drone flight instructor at UAV Coach. She works with our students in the area of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
Learn more about booking a drone flight training class here.
Getting Part 107 certificated to fly drones commercially started as a side project—one she thought would amount to little in the long run.
“I took the Part 107 test thinking I would never use it,” said Cheri. “It was one more thing to check off, like a another feather in your cap situation.”
Like many newcomers to the drone industry, Cheri hadn’t yet built an awareness of the extensive capabilities of drones. She started out in real estate photography and recently cultivated a desire to widen her skill set and launch her own drone business.
“I started doing a lot of real estate photography, video and still photos from a marketing standpoint. My background is in marketing and advertising, so it was a natural fit. But, the more I’m getting into it, the more I’m getting away from the pretty stuff I like to call it, and more into inspections, mapping and modeling, and industrial type work. That’s where I see myself going,” Cheri told UAV Coach.
Setting Herself Apart as a Drone Real Estate Photographer
The real estate marketing game has become saturated with drone pilots. According to a 2018 study from SkyLogic, about 38% of drone pilots offer aerial photography and video as their primary service.
We wanted to know how Cheri separated herself from the competition. Something she noticed was that many of the drone photos other drone pilots took all looked the same.
“A lot of drone shots out there are kind of the same. You can pick through them and see the ones that are shot too high or the angle is wrong. It takes a creative eye. I don’t think it’s something that everyone can just pick up and do well,” said Cheri.
Cheri believes that some pilot’s feel pressured to make their aerial photos look like an obvious drone shot to satisfy the client, but that isn’t necessarily the best approach in her mind.
“It doesn’t need to look like it’s up in the air. Some of the best drone shots are taken three feet off the ground. It just depends on the area. I see a lot of drone photography where it’s just way too high, and it’s not really selling the home.”
Cheri found that her creative ability is what set her apart from other drone photographers in the real estate sector. She didn’t give into the pressure to make every shot look like it was taken from the sky, and instead focused on what made each property unique and did her best to highlight that.
Making the Best of a Competitive Work Environment as a Drone Pilot
It’s not all about competition in the drone industry though. In fact, many would say that the industry is a really close knit group. Networking is known to be a significant element of moving up in any industry, especially in sales-driven industries or industries in which you’re responsible for obtaining your own clients.
One of the primary benefits of networking, according to Cheri, is the opportunity to learn from more experienced pilots. She finds that networking is more beneficial for peer support than for business purposes.
While most drone pilots she knows clutch their client lists tightly, she finds they are very open to sharing advice and stories. In this time of constantly changing drone regulations, she finds that support from other drone pilots is essential.
“From a support standpoint, networking has been very beneficial. The rules keep changing, so we have discussions about regulations,” said Cheri. “We ask, ‘What would you do in this situation? Can I fly here, can I not? Would you fly here, would you not?’”
How to Impact Your Local Drone Legislation
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the national authority responsible for regulating drone use and airspace. However, local and municipal governments have taken to establishing drone laws of their own. In some cases these run contradictory to the rules established by the FAA. We talk more about state drone laws and preemption in this article on state drone laws.
Some of the local drone laws in Cheri’s area have gotten so tight they make it impossible to conduct business involving drones. Some Minnesota cities have banned drones all together.
Not all is lost though. Cheri believes there are ways for commercial drone operators to make their voices heard without coming off as too aggressive, but still making an impact. Based on our discussion during the interview, some of her suggestions include:
- Join your state drone council or a local drone advocacy group
- Join a large trade organization such as the AOPA or AMA
- Educating your peers, even those who don’t fly drones
- Keep tabs on what’s going on with your local legislation
- Take part in community drone events. If none exist, propose establishing a city/state-wide drone day at your next town hall
- Search for and join local drone-centered Facebook groups
Cheri shared how these strategies have worked for her in Minnesota.
Minnesota Drone Advocacy Council and Minnesota Drone Day
As we mentioned previously, Cheri is a member of her state-wide drone advocacy group—Minnesota Drone Advocacy Council (MNDAC).
“We have a group here called MNDAC that is at the forefront of trying to keep regulations from getting so tight that we aren’t able to operate as a business.”
Many of the local regulations are created out of fear or lack of knowledge, says Cheri.
“The average city here does not allow drones in at all, whether that be commercial or private use. You can’t fly them within most city limits, which is completely fear based. So, we’re trying to educate legislators on the positive ways to use drones. For example, search and rescue or utility inspections.”
One of MNDAC’s most successful efforts to champion drones as a force for good is the annual Minnesota Drone Day. The event includes drone demos, simulators, vendors, and food. Representatives from the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and the FAA attend as well to provide expertise and answer questions.
“It is like a meet and greet for the whole industry,” said Cheri.
Approved and made an official day for drones by the governor, Minnesota Drone Day is open to all interested in drones. It is typically held during the Spring or month of May.
Emphasizing Drone Education and Awareness
Education is one of the most emphasized elements of changing the minds of legislators about drone use. Even Cheri herself didn’t know the amazing, life saving, and economic capabilities of drones when she first entered the industry.
You don’t often hear about the good that drones can do. It’s the bad press that tends to snowball.
“We all have seen through the media how one negative thing will be the only thing you hear about drones. You don’t hear about the thousand other good things,” said Cheri.
Check out these ‘drones for good’ stories.
Joining a National or Local Trade Organization for Drone Pilots
There’s an opportunity to educate the public at every level according to Cheri, whether you’re part of a large trade organization or just an individual.
“The big organizations, like AOPA and AMA are a force for us. But, it’s too easy to just sit back and say, ‘Okay, they’ll take care if it.’ It also comes down to small, day-to-day interactions with people,” said Cheri.
Cheri recounts getting approached multiple times a week by concerned neighbors during her real estate photography shoots. They often seemed concerned with privacy. To quell their worries, she’d offer them a view of her control screen.
“Here, come look at my screen,” she’ll say to concerned spectators. Then “they see, oh, yeah, you can’t see into my backyard or into my windows. This just reassure them, and now they go from being upset that you’re there, and fearful that you’re invading their privacy, to wow, that’s really cool,” said Cheri.
One interaction like that can make a difference. You can change someone’s perspective to a positive one if you offer an educated response. If the conversation never happens or does happen but you can’t provided an educated response “that one person can also make a huge problem for you,” explained Cheri.
Cheri recommends keeping up to date on regulations and being open to discussions with those who approach you.
Starting Small to Make a Big Difference
Another small thing drone pilots can do to tune into their local drone community is to join a local Facebook group for drone pilots in your area.
“We have a pretty tight Facebook group here, and that’s pretty much the case in every city. Members use it as a platform to ask for help or to gather signatures for a petition,” said Cheri.
Signing an online petition may not feel like making much of an impact, but it’s a good place to start, says Cheri.
“It’s a bit misleading to expect anything to change just by signing a petition online. I think it takes a lot more than that, but it’s a start. If you do something even at the smallest level, it can make a difference. When you’re up flying a drone, be responsible and courteous. If someone has a question, show them what you’re up to, so that they aren’t afraid, because a lot of times our legislation is based on fear,” said Cheri.