KINGMAN - While other teenagers are skateboarding and kicking it with friends, Michael Myers is perfecting his craft and starting his own business.
The 17-year-old senior at Virtual Academy online high school has taken his hobby of flying remote-control helicopters and drone aircraft to new heights with Michael's Drone Photography.
He recently received an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration that authorizes him to fly up to 200 feet for commercial purposes. The city of Kingman issued him a business license in May.
For hobby flying, he can take his aircraft above 400 feet.
"This one can go higher than you can see," Myers said, demonstrating the capabilities of his new DJ1 Inspire drone outside his Kingman home. "But the range is from here to where the golf course ends at the cliffs near the interstate (about a mile)."
Kingman police came to his home one day after reports of a UFO in the neighborhood.
Myers started his business with a DJ1 Phantom designed to hold the GoPro video camera, and recently upgraded with a $3,000 investment in the DJ1 Inspire 1, which has a Zenmuse camera with a triple-axis gimbal system to capture smooth, stable content.
"That's what makes this helicopter special," he said. "It does 4K video."
Myers' parents helped start the business with encouragement and financial backing. His grandfather, local attorney Tom Price, provided legal advice.
Because Myers is under age 18, a limited liability company was formed in his mother's name, Dannette Myers. She's also the principal investor behind his company, business consultant, finance director and the recording on his voice mail.
"I figure this is an investment into his future," Dannette said. "I'm proud of him, whatever path he wants to take. When you're 17, you really don't know what you're going to do."
Myers' first client was a real estate agent who wanted aerial photography of a dirt road that goes nowhere in Golden Valley so he could petition for abandonment.
Since attaining FAA certification, Myers picked up business from the Ramada Inn and Kingman's Tourism Development Commission, shooting the Route 66 Fun Run in May. He gets anywhere from $40 to $200 for an assignment.
"Right now, I have clients waiting, but school just ended and I had finals," he said.
Myers edited his Fun Run video and posted it on Facebook, which has proven to be the best source for marketing Michael's Drone Photography.
"Video is the future," Dannette Myers said. "For the prices he charges, this is so affordable for businesses to market themselves. Michael's learning to give people a good deal and get recommended for other jobs. The Bullhead City Chamber of Commerce called him after they heard about the Ramada Inn."
Myers came up with his business idea after meeting a fellow RC copter hobbyist in Phoenix.
"He told me that if I was good at flying RC quad copters, that I should consider selling aerial photography to local realtors. I thought it over and discussed it with my parents," he said. "At first I was a little surprised at the thought that I could make money doing something I was having fun with."
The young entrepreneur became a bit discouraged when he learned the Arizona Department of Real Estate had issued an opinion saying Realtors should not use drones for aerial photography because it violated FAA regulations.
"That's when my mom started helping me research what needed to be done in order to overcome that hurdle," Myers said. "I was worried that if the FAA would not grant me the required exemption, that my plans were doomed before they even really got started."
The FAA doesn't yet know how to handle applications for the overwhelming commercial use of drones, Dannette Myers said.
It started when Amazon proposed using drones for delivery of packages in late 2013. Those plans hit a roadblock in February when the FAA ruled that drones cannot fly out of the pilot's sight and cannot drop cargo.
Unmanned aircraft systems are inherently different from manned aircraft. Introducing them into the nation's airspace is challenging for both the FAA and aviation community because the United States has the busiest, most complex airspace in the world. The FAA is taking an incremental approach to safe integration of drone aircraft.
Any company wishing to use unmanned drones must request permission from the FAA, which the agency grants on a case-by-case basis.
There are currently two ways to gain FAA authorization for civilian unmanned aircraft:
Section 333 exemption and civil Certificate of Waiver or Authorization. This process may be used to perform commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments.
Special Airworthiness Certificate. Applicants must describe how their system is designed, constructed and manufactured, including engineering processes, software development and control, configuration management and quality assurance procedures, along with how and where they intend to fly.
Lake Havasu City officials are looking at regulating drones after a recent incident in which a man damaged a low-flying unmanned aircraft that he claimed was coming toward him. One proposal is to prohibit use of drones below 600 feet until federal or local laws can guarantee privacy protection.
Myers said it's difficult to estimate potential revenue from his photography business. The guy in Phoenix said he charges $300 for a photo session.
"When I was putting feelers out here in Kingman, I didn't think that was going to fly," Myers said, no pun intended. "So I started my fees drastically low in hopes to build a reputation and gradually increase prices as I gain experience and reputation. I am in no hurry to have this business get crazy busy on me until after I graduate high school next May."
He's considering attending a school to obtain a drone pilot license after graduation, which would give him more career options in the future.
Click for home delivery with comics, grocery deals, inserts, TV listings, coupons and more