Realtors await A-OK to fly drones

WASHINGTON – May 18, 2015 – There will be a time when Realtors® can legally fly an unmanned aerial system, or drone, to capture images for marketing listings – but that time has not yet arrived, at least not completely.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials talked to Realtors last week in the "When, Where and How Can I Use My Drone" session, part of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

According to Jim Williams, manager of FAA's UAS Integration Office, the agency's administrator Michael Huerta is committed to quickly finalizing the federal rules for the commercial use of UAS in national airspace, which is currently prohibited.

In the meantime, though, Realtors can apply for a Section 333 waiver. The Section 333 waver provides a limited-use permit to an applicant, and it includes many safety restrictions on use of the machine.

Panelist Doug Trudeau of Tucson, Ariz., was the first Realtor to receive a Section 333 exemption from the FAA to create marketing videos of property listings. He discussed the waiver application process and offered advice to other Realtors interested in pursuing a waiver.

After contacting an attorney with the FAA, Trudeau said he did several weeks of research on his own and chose to complete the application without hiring a private attorney. The guidelines are fairly clear, Trudeau said, but he could have saved himself some headaches if he had logged his previous UAS flying times and made sure his quadcopter was built in the U.S., because the FAA will not register a UAS that is registered by any foreign government.

From start to finish, the process took Trudeau 170 days, but he said it should go a lot faster for new applicants. "The FAA, in all reality, has made it easier today for you than it was for me a year ago," he told the Realtors in attendance.

Williams agreed, and said that thanks to Doug Trudeau, it's become easier to apply for real estate videography waivers. The FAA has received more than 1,200 waiver applications, approved 311, and is on track to approve 20 to 40 waivers each week.

Some of the earlier waivers restrict operators from flying a UAS within five miles of any airport, while other waivers limit it to two miles. Williams said that safety is the agency's biggest concern, and because drones are so easy to purchase and fly, it's a growing problem.

"A lot of folks out there don't understand the risk they are getting into when they operate near an airport. It's potentially very dangerous," said Williams, who also encouraged Realtors to call the FAA and report any UAS activity near airports.

The FAA is working on ways to approve drone flights over major metropolitan areas and also flights that go beyond the line of sight of the operator. On May 6, NAR President Chris Polychron issued a statement in support of the FAA's intention to study the safety of these flights, which could lead to important benefits in the real estate industry, particularly for agents who wish to market rural and large commercial properties.

During the session, NAR Associate Counsel Lesley Walker advised the audience to refrain from using UAS technology for commercial marketing purposes until the FAA finalizes its regulations.

Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors.