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Sunday, August 20 News

Student’s drone photography business back in air after run-in with FAA

WESTPORT — Not days after a story highlighting 15-year-old Ryan Felner’s drone photography business ran in The Hour, he heard from the Federal Aviation Administration.

They were not impressed, just as dozens of drone pilots sharing the story online had predicted.

“Obviously when I saw all the comments, I was petrified that I was doing something very wrong,” Felner said. “Then after I got an email from the FAA telling me I needed to contact them right away and that I could be subject to fines and penalties, I was really scared.”

Felner and his family had been unaware of new FAA guidelines, effective as of August, requiring anyone using a drone for business to be at least 16 and possess a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate.

The FAA effectively grounded his fledgling photography business before Felner’s drone had even taken off.

But Felner has two reasons to celebrate. As of Tuesday, he passed his FAA drone pilots exam, and Thursday marks his 16th birthday. After months of communication with the FAA, Felner is relaunching his business.

“Once I contacted them, I actually developed a relationship with two of the contacts and by the end of it they also helped me study for the exam,” Felner said. “They were so nice and helpful and understanding.”

One of those contacts, Marilyn Pearson, will be on hand at the Maker Faire in Westport this Saturday to officially present Felner with his pilots license. Felner is slated to give a presentation at the Maker Faire about his business and experience dealing with the federal government.

“At first I was really scared, especially when I got the email from the FAA,” Felner said. “I saw the government as scary, like they’re not going to be understanding. But they were so nice and helpful.”

Now that he’s passed the test, turned 16 and obtained his license, Felner is ready to hit the ground running with his business. RAF-Air, is a drone photography business, providing aerial photographs and videos to local real estate agents.

Felner is in the process of filing paperwork and tax forms to become official, a process he’d initially hoped to start in the fall.

“It was an experience,” Felner said of his dealings with the FAA. “It’s all worth it now. I’m going to be making advertisements, getting insurance and then registering as a formal business now that I’m 16 and have my license.”

kkrasselt@scni.com; 203-354-1021; @kaitlynkrasselt

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