Notes on a recent experience with the NH Department of Parks and Recreation
We were hired this week to perform radio tower asset imaging by drone for a major media organization (unfortunately, we are bound by NDA and cannot publicly disclose details of the project). While the organization’s HQ is out of state, the assets are here in New Hampshire and, due to their location, we needed to obtain a permit from our Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation. We thought this was going to be a nightmare for us because we were asking for a 24-hour turnaround time on the permits due to the client’s needs. Much to our surprise, however, the process turned out to be surprisingly smooth.
The first thing we ran by our client was that the permit fee was $100 with an additional $100 to expedite the application. The client recognized the need and approved the expense. Even still, we were told by the State that we would be lucky to get it approved this week – let alone in 24 hours. Still, we persisted….
Initially, the Parks office thought the permit needed to come from the NH Film Bureau so we were directed there, first. In talking with the Bureau Chief, however, we quickly realized that the nature of the project required only the Parks office to sign off. So we reached out to the department head in charge of Parks and pleaded our case.
After filling out the application, answering a separate drone-specific questionnaire, and paying the fees, the department head stayed in regular contact with us to provide updates on how the process was going. This was not a necessary act on her part, but was an example of excellent customer service from a state agency. We also needed to submit an insurance binder showing a certain level of liability coverage and naming the NHDNCR as the Certificate Holder. Once our paperwork was submitted on Tuesday evening, the department head told us they hoped to have something for us soon but could not make any guarantees (fully understood by us).
Wednesday morning, we received a phone call from the department head alerting us to the fact that our application was in the final stages of approval already and that we just needed to sign the initial draft and return it for final sign-off by the Director. A quick and easy step and, before the close of business Wednesday, we had our permits in-hand allowing us to begin our work Thursday morning. To quote that famous Staples® phrase: “That was easy!”
The commercial drone community vs local municipalities
There is a lot of consternation in the commercial drone community over what rights the states have to preempt federal regulations with local restrictions. After all, the FAA has sole dominion over the national airspace – regardless of what local municipalities may believe. In the case of state parks though, we here at 603 Drones, LLC fully support the need for some restrictions in order to preserve the enjoyment of all the thousands of visitors NOT flying drones. While we could have flown our mission and launched a legal argument as to why the State had no authority (we could have performed launch-and-recovery for this mission from just outside the park boundaries), we decided on a more collaborative approach with the State. In the end, we made contacts at two separate state agencies, demonstrated our commitment to professionalism, and put a shine on our business name that may otherwise have suffered from taking the renegade route.
The takeaway from this experience is that there is a time and place for activism and a time and place for collaboration. Whenever there is opportunity to cultivate relationships, we will always try to take that path. In the end, those relationships are what help us to carry on in our business pursuits with a positive reputation. And, of course, our client is absolutely thrilled at the fast turnaround time we are delivering with this project.