One could argue that over the past couple of years the word “drone” has evoked the image of unmanned, stealth-like aircraft cruising through the night sky, spying on its enemies in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Some even equipped with the ability to knock out the enemy with a missile with just a touch of a button when considered a threat.
However, its cousin, the much smaller, conventional type differs substantially and has found its niche and quite literally “taken flight” in popularity for its variety of commercial uses.
Enter T.J. Sivley. A Fort Worth native, the 36 year-old now lives in Parker County where he owns and operates Texas Aerial Solutions (TAS), a business with a growing fleet of drones used for multiple purposes.
Sivley began his operation after he sold his trucking company in Tarrant County.
“I had been doing it for about 12 years and finally just got fed up with it, and said, ‘I’m done,’” Sivley said. “I got tired of the regulations and the brokers - all of that stuff.”
While he was looking for work, trying to find something to do, Sivley said he began looking into drones.
“I thought these drones are interesting so I bought one and began learning how to fly it,” he said. “It was then I started wondering if I could turn it into a business.”
So, like any inquisitive entrepreneur, Sivley went to the Internet where he began watching YouTube videos by others who were doing the same thing he was thinking about doing.
“I thought I can do this,” Sivley said. “I’ll just turn it into a business.”
And thus TAS was born.
He primarily uses a four-blade drone that weighs about six pounds, mostly battery, on his jobs because of it’s versatility. A camera, which shoots single shots or videos, is mounted on a gimbal which keeps it steady no matter which way the drone flies. The drones battery life is between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on wind.
“I use it a lot at construction sites, groundbreaking to completion - like a processional - from start to finish,” he said. “Pool contractors use us because it gives them a nice view from above and and different angles, when from before they were limited with their view.”
One of his biggest customers is Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, which uses Sivley’s services for giving aerial views of equipment ready for auction.
Sivley also received permission to photograph the TCU Super-Regional baseball game in April, but not before having to get clearance from the NCAA, Big 12, TCU administration and the TCU police.
Sivley said current FAA regulations dictate that the drone be flown by line-of-sight and at 400 feet or below for safety measures. He receives live feedback to his hand-held monitor revealing the image. The photos are shot in 1080p and videos in 720 which is network standard.
“But even from there we can ‘pro-tune’ it to make it cinema grade so we can shoot 24, 36, 60 frames a second,” he said. “The industry is still in a ‘fledgling’ stage but it is really growing fast as are attempts to regulate it.”
According to U.S. News and World Report, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised alarms fearing for privacy and safety. Lawmakers from Washington to Virginia proposed legislation to limit or ban drones, even very small ones. The Federal Aviation Administration said that commercial drone use would be prohibited until 2015, when it would enact “comprehensive – and strict – safety regulations.”
In 2013, according to the ACLU, 43 states debated 96 drone bills, however, all but eight of these bills died in session. This year, just four out of 36 states that considered drone legislation have enacted any laws.
In that same vein, Sivley said he’s sure to observe regulations by the state of Texas especially when shooting real estate.
“Texas has a ‘peeping tom’ law for this type of technology, so anytime I shoot a piece of property I get consent from residential property owners on each side,” he said. “It’s a release from giving me permission.”
Sively said his company is fully insured and is able to provide other services like aerial photography for: construction progressions, crop inspections/wildlife management, aerial inspections, public safety, special events/ extreme sports and commercial/residential real estate.
“It’s really cool stuff,” he said.