News Of Interest To Real Estate Photographers Flying or Thinking About Flying Drones

December 16th, 2014


ChetALPA (Airline Pilots Association) is lobbying congress for transponders on UAS and certified pilots: Captain Chet, a PFRE photographer and qualified ATP (Airline Transport Rating) pilot sent me this link to a recent ALPA press release. Chet commented that:

While I applaud the union for taking a stance, this is a bit absurd. Capt Moak is suggesting that all UAS have a transponder on board. Well that’s crazy as these radios weigh more than the entire Phantom quad. In addition, he wants pilots trained to the same standards as manned aircraft. While I’m fully qualified and hold an Airline Transport Rating (ATP), his suggestion will basically put the small quad out of business for commercial use. ALPA has a lot of money and power, we are the single largest airline pilots union. This is not good news based upon his testimony to congress. Let’s hope Congress doesn’t get pressured and implement such restrictions.

That’s Capt Chet in the photo getting ready to take his UAS real estate photography/videography business to the next level when he retires from ExpressJet Airlines next March. Hey, I don’t see a transponder on that rig!

The NAR posts another article reiterating it’s members should not use UAS or hire UAS until FAA issues final guidelines: I find it disappointing that the NAR is not out there lobbying for it’s members interests like the ALPA is. As far as NAR is concerned agents should just sit back wait a couple more years for FAA final rules. I think the NAR should be should be in there with the APLA demanding that there be immediate interim rules for commercial sUAS operation. Be serious, very few are going to wait another two years. They are already using them now!

New York City’s Drone Ban Would Be the Strictest in the country: Jason Koebler over at Motherboard.vice.com has an article today on the effort by council member Paul Vallone to make Drones illegal except for “agencies of the city”. Given the number of serious incidents in NYC it’s not surprising that they are trying to crackdown on drones. One problem with this kind of effort by cities and states is that it is not clear that anyone can legally regulate airspace besides the FAA.

New software for stabilization and correction of video shot with GoPros on multicopters: Greg Nuspel pointed out a review of some software that can significantly improve the quality of video shot with GoPros on UAS. This is the software.

Alaska’s Know Before You Fly Drone Safety Guidelines:  Greg Utton pointed out that Alaska has come up with their own rules for sUAS. They are basically just the rules developed by the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) for hobbyists and the FAA guidance in Advisory Circular 91-57.

Don’t expect all this craziness on drone regulations to get better any time soon. It will probably get more chaotic before it gets better.

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16 Responses to “News Of Interest To Real Estate Photographers Flying or Thinking About Flying Drones”

  • Transponders, even ADSB makes sense for those drones that can carry a payload in excess of 100 pounds and fly dozens or hundreds of miles at air commerce altitudes, but for the below 400 ft crowd, the 3 pound gross weight crowd, ridiculous doesn’t even begin to describe a transponder requirement.

    The ALPA will do whatever they can to delay the integration of UAS into the NAS. Think of the future. In ten years much of FedEx and UPS flights will be autonomous. In 20 years, regional airlines will be flying passengers with no pilot on board. In 30 years, the ALPA will have no more members to represent. In 50 years kids will laugh at you for suggesting that a pilot had to be on the airplane. In 100 years kids will say, “What’s a pilot?”

    Like you, I am surprised that the NRA is taking a sit back and wait approach.

    But, I don’t believe that the FAA is that stupid. They know that there are tens of thousands of light drones flying over properties and events today, many of them for commercial purposes. Would the FAA put up onerous rules that would effectively ground them all? Well, the commercial ones since Congress has told the FAA, “hands off hobby flight”.

    When the NPRM comes out, first, understand what it says before you comment, unless you are Emily Litella, then comment.

  • Sometimes I think that the NAR does not have the best interest of Realtors in mind. In their articles, they promote crappy photography and tech solutions instead of pushing for quality work by professionals, and now they are basically telling Realtors to not even think about using aerial photography. I agree, the NAR should have their nose in there and fighting for the use of such options as it was already becoming an established trend. It’a Ridiculous. Don’t anyone count on the NAR doing anything of worth on this.

  • Before I say the rest of this, Larry is right and the NAR SHOULD be lobbying for us, but thats a pipe dream. Remember, MANY pilots are a little bit older than the drone market demographics, and a LOT more disciplined and cranky about it (think what it takes to fly a plane safely? I know I am TRIPLE thorough compared to driving the same route) than some mid 20’s guy who just bought a $2000 toy and is going to show it off on you tube. I feel like they are making the louder noise because they are hearing the scary side of this (drone run ins with manned passenger craft in critical airspace), and want it stopped. While a big chunk of drone crowd has the ” cant catch us all” or ” until FAA sets some rules, that means there are no rules” group that is just waiting until they have to follow some guidelines… Squeaky wheel gets the oil first..

    Stephen.. the problem is the “under 400 ft crowd” is NOT obeying that… Im in Dallas and we have had SEVERAL high profile issues with drones recently where the FAA has actually reprimanded the drone operators (although it wasnt with a fine or legal action, just a reprimand) for reckless use of drones in Class B airspace, over 400 ft, and in heavily populated areas (usually all three).

    Downtown Dallas and its surrounding west area is in Love Field (DAL) adjacent airspace, and approach paths. Based on published building heights, several videos have been posted by hobbyists, and people using them commercially , and garnered the attention of the FAA. Every one of them claim to be under 400′, but when you fly at or above the top of 600-1000 ft buildings, the proof is in the pudding that you are lying. A drone operator here just recently was scolded by the FAA for flying his drone up the side and OVER THE TOP of a 600′ landmark building. Shortly after he crashed it into Dallas Cowboys stadium and got the attention of not only the FAA, but one of Dallas’ richest and very politically connected person (Jerry Jones, owner of Cowboys). I could list another dozen incidents I know of around Addison, DAL and DFW International this last couple of years involving UAV over 400 ft, not in contact/permission within 1 mile of tower, etc, and I am sure there are more. I personally have seen a careless operator running a DJI Phantom vision to @ 1200′ and his response was ” they cant catch everyone”… and thats the general attitude amongst the hobby owners in my experience..

    Point being, the FAA IS WATCHING, even if they are doing nothing. and when they do act, this will all come into play and the law abiding people with legitimate uses will pay the price/suffer the unnecessary burden for rouge operators who could care less, and will continue to not care despite FAA making rules.

    I for one WELCOME a FAA certification process for operating a drone commercially and will happily pay the fees/time associated with it. I feel it should come with added features that are not offered to uncertified hobbyists, such as a higher operating ceiling, but that will likely not happen. A transponder isnt a horrible idea if the tech was already caught up. Right now it is not. Honestly its a band aid at best, but its all they have to offer right now. $5 says a week later there will be transponder spoofing/cloning devices on amazon to fool the FAA tower into thinking your an F16 or A380.. Its pandoras box unless they turn it into the same horribly strict guidelines set for manned aviation.. Fortunately, the drone market is HOT, and if transponders are required, bigger companies like DJI will find a way to make a miniaturized transponder unit work on their products. So I wouldnt fret over it just yet, unless youre concerned with getting caught doing something you arent supposed to be.

  • Drones are a new technology that obviously need some type of regulation. I see videos frequently that show reckless behavior by the operator… following cars in moving traffic, buzzing crowds of people at the beach, and so forth. But at the same time, used properly they can be very beneficial. Ariel photography of larger estate properties (done “cost effectively”) is a game changer. With new drone based photos being published every day by members of the NAR despite the prohibition, it will be interesting to see how they approach this while waiting 2 more years for the Feds to act.

  • JT said: ” Im in Dallas and we have had SEVERAL high profile issues with drones recently where the FAA has actually reprimanded the drone operators (although it wasnt with a fine or legal action, just a reprimand) for reckless use of drones in Class B airspace, over 400 ft, and in heavily populated areas (usually all three).”

    I will assume that your knowledge of airspace classification comes from being a pilot yourself. I agree with much of what you said, but remember, there are tens of thousands of these small drones flying today, and that number may more than double in the next two weeks. Some DJI dealers have extrapolated their sales and market share and estimate that there will be 150,000 DJI Phantom drones under the trees next week.

    But, back to the current levels, tens of thousands drones. And only .01% of them are in the news. You give me any group of people and you can be pretty certain that .01% of them will behave badly.

    But regarding your quote above. Reprimand? I’ve been a pilot for 40 years and believe me, the FAA does not “reprimand”. They charge the operators with at least violating FAR 91.13 Careless and Reckless operation of an aircraft. If they are “reprimanding” or more likely threatening enforcement action, it’s because they don’t have a statutory basis for the charges. even the cease and desist letters have stopped since the Pirker decision. (At least I haven’t heard of anyone receiving one recently).

    On the transponders, to be efficient, a transponder has to pulse 150 to 200 Watts of RF at 1090 MHz and include encoding altimeter information, and after 2020 it has to include ADS-B data including aircraft ID and GPS coordinates. That’s an awful lot of technical challenges to get small and light enough to work with small drones. Besides the fact that you do not need a transponder to fly a manned aircraft in most of the US airspace and ADS-B receivers aren’t mandated by the FAA, so even if all drones had a state of the art ADS-B transponder, the only airplanes that would know of their presence are the airliners. Requiring that in small drones under 400 ft would be what’s called “onerous” rules and likely be challenged. However if the imminent NPRM does call for something this technologically impossible, I am prepared to comment with a “low” cost (relevant term) solution that would satisfy the safety requirements and for the commercial drone operator still be an acceptable business expense. But let’s wait for the NPRM to see what the FAA is proposing.

    Mal – define “buzzing”. Flying 50 or 100 ft over a beach or road is not buzzing and certainly not reckless. If you see a video on YouTube that demonstrates what you call reckless, then show me the video and tell me what is reckless about it. And I will likely tell you why you are wrong.

    The bottom line is that there will always be people pushing the envelope in any activity regardless of the rules. But everyone wants a knee-jerk response.

  • As a realtor, I just want to also say that NAR has absolutely no interest in protecting the interests of their members. They only have one very clear goal – raise money and spend it foolishly……(maybe that’s 2 goals).

  • You are correct in that ALL groups have a .01% behaving badly.. My point is, the ones behaving badly with drones are making the news. Its unwanted attention. Just like when one gun out of the 80 million in circulation in the US is used in a crime, lawmakers want to penalize all gun owners.. You think the FAA will be any different? Especially when they have the upper hand and the fear of interference with commercial passenger flights on their side? They will go to the extreme to be on the safe side. You are probably correct that it was the threat of action because we all know the laws havent been enacted. Its why were here discussing this in the first place. Reprimand is just more or less the terminology I used.

    ADS-B is a whole different animal. However a lower power transponder emitting only the most basic data, so that within 1/2 – 1 mile of a tower or other aircraft the collision warning system can function or location (even without elevation) can be placed into traffic, is much more feasible than a full blown unit. Either way as I stated above, the concept of a transponder on these drones in any form is a band aid at best to the real problem, and only increases the cost and complexity of legally operating one of these. Requiring all this stuff on drones under 400′ IS excessive – I agree 100%, but just like we both have said about everyone wanting a knee jerk reaction – logic and common sense (especially with a federal agency involved) for legitimate business owners and hobbyists, will not prevail.

    Being on both sides of this argument, I am certain the two (drones/manned craft) can coexist safely without lots of fuss. But the way it has started off, as a free for all, then the FAA wants to come in and change the game after the fact, isnt going to go smoothly for a while. I dont think anyone saw this coming as rapidly as drones have grown, and its just one more arena where legislation is WAY behind current tech.

    Also lets not forget the overzealous ordinances many cities and states are already imposing at a local level (like NYC).. We need to be addressing these too, because if enough municipalities crack down like this, it will set a VERY BAD precedent for when the rules are officially laid down.

  • “Also lets not forget the overzealous ordinances many cities and states are already imposing at a local level (like NYC).. We need to be addressing these too, because if enough municipalities crack down like this, it will set a VERY BAD precedent for when the rules are officially laid down.”

    People want the FAA to regulate drones as aircraft – OK, they are aircraft. Only the FAA may regulate aviation activities, so all local regulations governing flight activities are superseded by federal law.

  • Stephen – “…so all local regulations governing flight activities are superseded by federal law.” Ahhh, if only that were true. Actually, local laws can indeed be more restrictive, just not less restrictive with an expectation of allowing an easier path than the Feds require. Hmmmm – sorry – that is not well said, but hopefully you get my meaning.

    I cannot believe folks are so worried by something that flies for 10 minutes or so, usually line of sight to the operator, and usually very responsibly, and (most importantly) where the client WANTS them to.

    I just want to use my multicopters to responsibly capture images that are simply unobtainable by ground level shooting or by mast (PAP); I live near lakes where there are some really nice homes that would be best served with images taken from over the water, out past the docks and shoreline. That is a no-go without a small UAV being allowed to zip out a hundred yards and up maybe a hundred feet to get the details and the panorama. KAP works if the wind is right, but it is quite a chore.

  • “…so all local regulations governing flight activities are superseded by federal law.” Ahhh, if only that were true. Actually, local laws can indeed be more restrictive, just not less restrictive with an expectation of allowing an easier path than the Feds require. Hmmmm – sorry – that is not well said, but hopefully you get my meaning.

    You are wrong. If it flies, the FAA has jurisdiction. Every year there are clueless local politicians trying to impose local rules on aircraft. Curfews, specific flight paths, restricted zones – all to absolutely no success because the Federal law has supremacy.

    Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution is commonly referred to as the Supremacy Clause. It establishes that the federal constitution, and federal law generally, take precedence over state laws, and even state constitutions. So, if the FAA considers your drone as an aircraft subject to the rules of Federal Air Regulations, then local governing authorities have no jurisdiction over your flight.

  • Steven Mann you wrote “Flying 50 or 100 ft over a beach or road is not buzzing and certainly not reckless.” in response to me writing about “buzzing crowds of people at the beach”. You seem to have totally missed the point I described. Flying a drone 50 feet above an innocent bystanders head is absolutely and totally reckless as the device could fail and fall right on someone’s head. It’s the same concept that dictates safe usage for driving lumber trucks in a Home Depot for example. They don’t use a forklift to move piles of lumber over a shopper’s head because the system could fail resulting in injury. That’s why a drone should never be flown over crowds at a beach like I described or any other instance where a system failure could result in personal injury.

  • Mal: “Flying a drone 50 feet above an innocent bystanders head is absolutely and totally reckless as the device could fail and fall right on someone’s head.”

    Two comments –
    1) What altitude would you consider safe? 200 ft? 400 ft? 10,000 ft?
    2) Has this ever happened? No! There is absolutely no factual evidence to support the fear and ignorance around small personal drones that your comment exhibits. There have been hundreds of thousands of hours of flight time using these small aircraft, yet there is not one verifiable report of a drone crash that resulted in a serious injury to someone not connected to the flight. Not one. It is a safety record that all other segments of aviation would be jealous to have. According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, 100,000 hours in the General Aviation fleet would include at least one fatality. So, where’s the blood and mayhem to justify the paranoia that small personal drones are a threat to public safety?

  • @Stephen Mann, There have been several incidents involving injuries with an RCMA’s. A little bit of searching on YouTube will even provide footage. There have also been many security breaches with RCMA’s. Just recently, a RCMA landed on the grounds of the White House. Previously, one landed on stage in front of the German Chancellor. None of these incidents have been connected with a commercial endeavor, but it isn’t helping that unsafe operators continue to make the news.

    Flying over people at any altitude holds risk. These craft do not have redundant systems, do not glide and are notorious for erratic behavior if they lose lock with the operator on the ground. The “return home” sometimes sends the craft in the direction of China, which makes some sense, but doesn’t reflect what the manual says it is supposed to do on loss of signal.

    Hopefully you will find the video on YouTube of a flight that crashed in Manhattan. Some yahoo thought it would be fun to launch and fly a Phantom from a high-rise apartment and after banging into several buildings, it finally quit and fell to the ground. A guy that it missed by about 3 feet scooped it up and sold the footage on the memory card to the local TV station. I don’t think that he was too worried that the owner was going to try and claim copyright or demand his property back. A few feet difference might have been a serious injury. It can be seen in the footage that it was very high up when it failed.

  • “There have been several incidents involving injuries with an RCMA’s.”
    Show me one.
    Show me one verifiable report of a drone crash that resulted in a serious injury to someone not connected to the flight. Just one.
    A band-aid is not a serious injury. Ice packs are not a serious injury. More people have been injured by errant golf balls than small UAV crashes. (http://golf.heraldtribune.com/2010/11/29/death-by-golf-ball-not-all-that-uncommon/).

    ” .. and are notorious for erratic behavior if they lose lock with the operator on the ground. The “return home” sometimes sends the craft in the direction of China,”
    Again, cites, please. Notorious?? One in a hundred flights? One in a thousand? One in a million? What defines notorious? As I said, hundreds of thousands of flight hours and there’s what three even four dozen flyaway reports? Is that .001% or .002% of the flights lost to a flyaway? Hardly “notorious”. And if you’re talking about the most popular model, what does it do when the battery runs low – it lands gently. It doesn’t fall out of the sky like a ballistic missile as the hysteria would indicate. The “Return Home” feature depends on establishing home before takeoff – you would be surprised how many operators don’t wait for a sat lock before taking off.

    As I said to Mal: There is absolutely no factual evidence to support the fear and ignorance around small personal drones that your comment exhibits.

    If this comes across as trolling, then guilty as charged. I do it because I have looked for months for one, just one verifiable report of a drone crash that resulted in a serious injury to someone not connected to the flight. Just one. I have asked insurance representatives. I have asked drone industry representatives. I have asked pilots, I have asked aviation organizations (AOPA, EAA). I have been running Google Alerts. None of these searches have produced even one report of a drone crash that resulted in a serious injury to someone not connected to the flight.

    So, again. Where’s the blood and mayhem to justify the hysteria that small personal drones are a threat to public safety?

  • You are living proof Steve Mann why the feds need to create laws to prevent people like you from hurting innocent bystanders. Please stand under cranes in a shipyard or a building project without a hardhat to prove a point that accidents never happen because you are too challenged to do research before opening your mouth. I will never post on this board again because of the troll like nature of people like you who flourish here.

  • I never said that accidents never happen. But prove me wrong – Show me one verifiable report of a drone crash that resulted in a serious injury to someone not connected to the flight. Just one. I have been researching drone accidents for months, so if there’s an area I may have missed in my search, then please tell me where to look. What is troll-like to ask the larger community to show me one, just one verifiable accident with serious injuries?

    Trolling would be adding imagined data to the hysteria that small personal drones are a threat to public safety.

    How does looking for a verifiable accident report make me likely to “hurt innocent bystanders” as you state? How does questioning the hysteria make my flights less safe? Despite the lack of justification to the hysteria from small UAV’s, I do not fly over crowds, I do not fly near airports, I make sure anyone nearby knows that the flight is about to begin.

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