Drones are finding their places legally in a variety of settings across industries. Communications companies are using them to provide Wi-Fi signals to remote communities. High-end resorts offer unmanned aircraft that follow skiers and videotape them as they fly down the slopes. Some companies even offer drone-powered child-tracking systems for worried moms and dads. “It really gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘helicopter parent,’” joked Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration Office. Williams was among experts at the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo this month, who shared their knowledge about the prospects for safely aligning drone technology and the real estate industry.
Also in attendance at the forum on drone use was the first REALTOR® to apply for and receive a Section 333 waiver, which allows him to use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for commercial reasons under certain restrictions. Doug Trudeau, associate broker at Tierra Antigua Realty LLC in Tucson, Ariz., said when the FAA released preliminary guidelines in June 2014 restricting the commercial use of drones, he grounded his quadcopter, which he’d outfitted with a GoPro camera, and began looking into what it might take to get it off the ground legally. He eventually became the 13th person to obtain an exemption from the FAA to use drone technology in his business. As of May 15, the FAA had granted more than 300 exemptions.
A third panel member was associate counsel for the National Association of REALTORS®, Lesley Walker. Though the legal landscape will remain somewhat cloudy until the FAA issues its final rulemaking on drone use in commercial contexts (expected in 2016 or 2017), the panel discussion offered some guidance to help you decide whether pursuing an exemption makes sense for your business.
Safety Is Priority No. 1
Securing an FAA exemption requires operators to obtain a “certificate of authorization” that addresses height restrictions and the need to steer clear of airports, among other procedures. But even operating within those restrictions can carry significant risk, said the panelists.
In their eagerness to use drones, Trudeau said his colleagues often overlook the potential dangers inherent in the technology. The batteries currently used in many unmanned aerial vehicles can be “highly explosive” upon impact, so a crash in a remote forest could turn into a catastrophic wildfire. He said the potential damage in a ground collision in a populated area or with a passenger-laden helicopter should give any drone operator reason to pause.
“It only takes one freak accident,” Trudeau said. “That 2.86-pound device can cause devastation if not handled the right way.”
Don’t Just Jump in Because It’s Cool
Trudeau isn’t new to video marketing; he’s been actively using the medium to highlight features of high-end properties for at least five years. He was excited about the prospect of using a drone for aerial shots because it was a natural extension of his existing marketing strategy.
“I pursued it not to start something new, but to improve on what I was already doing,” he said.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com