NAR was the only major trade association to participate in a White House event on commercial drone use. Rules on drones take effect on Aug. 29 and use of the devices in real estate is expected to pick up.
On June 21, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued new regulations for the commercial use of unmanned drones. These regulations will make it significantly easier for REALTORS® to use drones to capture listing videos and photos or to inspect properties.
Prior to these new regulations, anyone wishing to operate a drone for commercial purposes was required to obtain a special exemption, called a Section 333 exemption, from the FAA rules regulating the operation of aircraft in national airspace. While this was a pathway to commercial drone use, the exemption was given only to people who hold a pilot’s license. Accordingly, most REALTORS®, appraisers, surveyors and others were unable to take advantage of the limited exemption and use drones for business purposes.
To use drones lawfully and effectively to enhance the professional services they provide, REALTORS® should know the following 10 things about the new drone rules.
A pilot’s license certificate is required: Under the new rules, a pilot’s license is no longer required to operate a drone for commercial use. Rather, an operator must have a pilot license with the necessary training course or a remote pilot certificate. The difference? Obtaining the certificate does not require any actual flying experience. To obtain a certificate, an applicant must demonstrate sufficient aeronautical knowledge by passing an exam at an FAA testing center. The cost of the exam is approximately $150, and an estimated 20 hours of preparation and study time should be sufficient to pass the exam. In addition, the applicant must meet four eligibility requirements. The applicant must:
- Be at least 16 years old.
- Be able to read, write and understand the English language.
- Be in a physical and mental condition that allows for the safe operation of the drone.
- Pass a background check performed by the TSA.
Drone registration is required: In addition to having the correct pilot certification or licensure, the drone itself must be registered with the FAA if the drone weighs over 55 pounds. Registration information may be found on the FAA’s website at www.registermyuas.faa.gov/.
Travel airspace is limited: Generally, a drone is allowed to fly no higher than 400 feet above ground level; this is the rule for vacant land. However, if a structure is present, a drone can fly within a 400-foot radius of the structure as long as it does not fly any higher than 400 feet above the top of the structure. Also the drone generally must be flown within the visual line of sight of the operator.
Flying over people: Drones are prohibited from flying over people not directly involved in the drone operation unless those people are located under a covered structure or in a stationary vehicle that would provide adequate protection in the case of an accident.
Daylight only: Drones are allowed to fly only during daylight hours. However, if the drone is equipped with anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 miles, the drone may operate during “twilight hours,” defined as 30 minutes before official sunrise and 30 minutes after official sunset.
100 MPH speed limit: Drones are not allowed to travel at a speed greater than 100 miles per hour.
Preflight check: The drone must be inspected prior to flight to verify it is in safe operating condition, and the area where the drone will be flown must be assessed to ensure no risks to people or property are present.
55-pound weight limit: To qualify for the FAA’s new Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, a drone must not exceed 55 pounds. The weight limit includes all attachments and anything on board.
Check state and local laws: The new FAA rules are primarily focused on protecting the safety of the national airspace. As a result, the rules don’t address privacy-related issues, traffic concerns or other related issues. However, state and local jurisdictions have their own separate laws that may impose additional restrictions on drone usage.
Effective date: The new FAA rules go into effect on August 29, 2016. Operation of drones for commercial purpose prior to this date is subject to the prior laws.
Tom Larson is Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs for the WRA.