Drones are a vital part of the current real estate landscape – used for home tours, property overviews, and generally giving potential buyers an overview of the property that simply cannot be duplicated.
Today, however, things changed from a regulatory standpoint. The FAA released an interim final rule (IFR) that impacts the drone-using public. While some of the provisions are not excessively onerous, there are changes in the way in which drones are being allowed to be used.
The shorter version of the IFR is that all drones weighing between .55 and 55 pounds will be required to be registered online with the FAA between December 21, 2015 and February 19, 2016. All registrations before January 20, 2016 will have the $5.00 fee waived. The site is not yet in operation, so I cannot link to it at this time.
It is worth noting that .55lbs is light – a great many quadcopters and other toys will fall into this weight classification. These are not the larger drones seen crashing into the stands in the US Open or flying about taking stunning footage of national parks. These are indeed toys, like the HawkEye 3000, which is a small toy quadcopter.
The FAA rules would require that the issued registration number be added to the drone before flight. Registration needs renewal every three years, and fines for noncompliance include civil penalties up to $27,500, and criminal penalties include a fine of up to $250,000 and three years in jail.
What impacts the real estate industry the most is the clarification that any commercial drone use is, was, and will remain (at least until mid-2016) illegal without an exemption.
While there are, and will remain, bad actors who use drones and quadcopters in dangerous and criminal activity, the vast majority of the operators, including commercial users, are only interested in safe and appropriate usage. From recreation at the family picnic to aerial tours of homes and property, drones are a part of our world now.
My advice to realtors would be to curtail drone use until there can be some form of regulation from the FAA. If the personal-use fines top out at a quarter million dollars, can you imagine where they would be for us? There needs to be a close look at the risk of using drones, especially in the current regulatory climate – we will be circling back to this, since the drone is simply too useful a tool for realtors.