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Why Real Estate Drones Face Big Limits

Are drones in our future?The government this week announced that it would seek $1.9 million from a company that flew drones in New York City and Chicago. Given the size of the proposed fine you might think that thousands of flights were involved but that’s not the case, instead the Federal Aviation Administration says it’s going after SkyPan International, Inc. for 65 flights that it claims were unauthorized.

The SkyPan situation brings into sharp focus the use of real estate drones where such devices have obvious values in terms of aerial photography for mapping, listings and appraisals. The catch is that the use of drones for commercial purposes is generally prohibited.

According to the FAA the ban includes “a Realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing” and “a person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.”

During the past few years the FAA ban has been widely flouted, in part because the FAA has yet to issue final regulations but also because the use of drones by a hobbyist is perfectly fine providing that the device weighs less than 55 pounds, does not go above several hundred feet, and stays outside certain restricted areas.

Real Estate Drones

In other words, two identical drones may be subject to entirely distinct regulations, depending upon their use. In a practical sense this effort to split bureaucratic hairs makes little sense because the potential dangers in either case are identical. If you want to try an interesting experiment go to the local supermarket and buy eleven five-pound bags of sugar and imagine what would happen if that fell on you or your car from several hundred feet.


In the SkyPan situation, the FAA alleges that the company conducted 65 unauthorized, commercial, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flights “over various locations in New York City and Chicago between March 21, 2012 and Dec. 15, 2014. The flights involved aerial photography. Of those, 43 flew in the highly restricted New York Class B airspace.”

“Flying unmanned aircraft in violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations is illegal and can be dangerous,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We have the safest airspace in the world, and everyone who uses it must understand and observe our comprehensive set of rules and regulations.”

The catch is that the FAA has proposed draft regulations that are being considered but not final rules while at the same time more than 40 states have introduced or accepted drone standards. Meanwhile, in the real world, the commercial use of drones is obvious and the technology is constantly improving.

New Drone Rules Needed

The time has long since passed for the FAA to conclude the rulemaking process so that the commercial use of drones can be carried out in a sensible manner. At the same time it should be understood that drones represent a significant danger to those below in the case of an accident, and that drones – purposely or not – can violate the privacy rights of individual citizens.

There needs to be some sort of reasonable accommodation so that the conflicting rights and worries represented by the use of drones can be resolved. The solution will not be perfect but in the instant case it can give us a basic set of rules as a place to start.

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1 Comment on "Why Real Estate Drones Face Big Limits"

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  1. Willy says:

    In 2016 it was reported that 23 percent of all NAR members “use drones, has a colleague who uses drones or hires a contractor to operate drones for their business.

    http://economistsoutlook.blogs.realtor.org/2016/06/16/drone-usage-within-the-real-estate-industry/

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