FAA Grants First Commercial Exemption For Real Estate Photography

January 7th, 2015


NAR President Chris Polychron, released a statement today on the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to grant the first drone exemption to a real estate professional in the U.S.:

“The FAA has taken a positive step by approving Realtor Doug Trudeau’s application, member of the Tucson Association of REALTORS®, for an exemption to fly an unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) for commercial purposes. Images captured using UAV technology will provide residential and commercial property buyers with more information and visual insights than they’ve ever had before.

“NAR looks forward to the release of the FAA’s proposed regulations for UAVs, but in the meantime, the exemption process is a way for real estate agents to take advantage of the new technology. We are now compiling resources for our members who might want to apply for the Section 333 exemption so that they can legally and safely use UAVs for their real estate businesses. NAR will continue to educate our members about new technology and innovation that can enhance the experience of buying and selling real estate.”

Here are the details of Doug Trudeau’s exemption which lists the conditions and limitations.

This certainly sounds encouraging on the surface. But it remains to be seen how difficult it will be of you or I to get an exemption like Doug did. Better get in line there 215+ requests for exemptions. Certainly the Conditions and Limitations section of the exemption gives an indication a what the rules are likely to be going forward. This is a significant positive step forward. Thanks to all the readers (Dave, Chet, Chad, Jim, John and Felix) that sent me links on this subject today!

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28 Responses to “FAA Grants First Commercial Exemption For Real Estate Photography”

  • What would the FAA do if they received a thousand more petitions for exemption in the next few weeks? I really don’t think they have a clue how much pent-up demand there is for low-level photography and videography.

  • Wow, a 26 page document issued by the FAA to fly a Phantom II! That should tell you about how serious the FAA looks at drones how over regulated the FAA can get to the operators! To the point of being absurd!

    My hat’s off to Mr Doug Trudeau for going through this arduous process with the FAA and succeeding. An accomplishment worthy of praise.

    The restrictions in Paragraph 24 of this exemption is going to be one which ultimately will bog down the entire FAA system and burden the drone pilot beyond belief.

    It states “The operator must obtain an Air Traffic Organization (ATO) issued Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) prior to conducting any operations under this grant of exemption. This COA will also require the operator to request a Notice to Airman (NOTAM) not more than 72 hours in advance, but not less than 48 hours prior to the operation.”

    As part of any flight operation (meaning normal flying type operations in airplanes and helicopters) the PIC is required to review the weather pertinent to that flight and all the NOTAMS (Notices to Airman) that are relevant to that flight. These NOTAMS can be pages long today. I can only see a few thousand NOTAMS having to be entered into the system and the dissemination of these NOTAMS to all operators as being taxing to the existing computer systems in place! To their limits and perhaps beyond.

    Also, needing 48-72 hrs notice to ATC prior certainly means that flying around that home better be well planned weather wise, otherwise another request will have to be made, and another NOTAM issued. The controllers are not going to like this extra workload at all. Not one bit. And they could easily just deny the exemption with no explanation needed.

    Let hope this get dropped in the final rules. If the pilot doesn’t follow this exemption in it’s entirety, he is subject to FAA actions. Paragraph 24 is not needed, it’s expensive for the FAA (taxpayers) and it’s an burden to the pilots of drones.

    The FAA at it’s finest!

  • Wonderful..

  • One other thought; by the FAA granting this exemption the opposite effect is that now any other realtor except Mr Trudeau operating a drone for Real Estate would now clearly be in violation and would be subject to FAA actions. In a way, they addressed all uses of drones for commercial purposes as being illegal except for operations that have the exemption authorization. Clever approach.

  • This isn’t an exception, it’s a farce. The limits and conditions are such that drone use be basically grounded. Condition 14 – you have to have a pilot license, condition 31 – you can’t operate within 500 feet of another structure, condition 5 – you have to have 2 people watching the drone, condition 24 – you have to get a waver from the ATO and issue a notice 72 hours in advance.

    These conditions indicate the utter stupidity and extreme lack of intelligence that the FAA has repeatedly shown in this matter.

  • (Busting Myths about the FAA and Unmanned Aircraft)
    “The FAA currently estimates as many as 7,500 small commercial UAS may be in use by 2018, assuming the necessary regulations are in place. The number may be updated when the agency publishes the proposed rule on small UAS later this year.”

    To say that the FAA is completely clueless goes without saying.

    What would happen if 7,500 of us file for similar exemptions this month? Would their collective heads explode? I had a horrifying thought about a possible consequence of this large an influx of work for the FAA- let the local governments have jurisdiction over small UAVs under 400 ft.

  • This is really good news for all of us. For those that fly the drones, I am excited for you and urge you to start petitioning the FAA for your permissions. For those like ourselves that contract out our drone work, I am also excited and hope that our contractors apply asap and let us know what they need from us to make them successful. When our contractors are successful, we are successful and visa versa.

    Here is an interesting thought. Flying a drone and getting good photography and video is a skill where expertise and best results comes from a lot of practice. Just like we need to educate real estate agents about the differences between cell phones and professional photographers, we need to educate our real estate photographers that successful drone photography also requires a skill and sometimes its best to contract out. You’d be surprised how great it is to have a relationship in your own city with someone who can fly a drone, even if you are normally competitors. Collaboration is the best! I want to thank Rob E. for the good work he has done for us up to now and hopefully when things settle out in FAA land, that he will continue to do for us.

  • From a previous air traffic controller – Flying a drone should be more than just a hobby because of the danger to aircraft and obstructions in the area. When you have other real estate close by, it is an obstruction that you might not see. There is more to understanding about air traffic control than buying a drone and flying a few times around your real estate listing. Some people will consider drone flying a fun activity and not pay attention to the weather, aircraft or the real estate next door. The FAA has to have some control over something as dangerous as a drone flying around.

  • “will need to acquire a private pilot’s license and medical certification”
    Lets be real. How many real estate photographers are ready to get their pilot’s license?

    “you can’t operate within 500 feet of another structure”
    If I am understanding that correctly, the only homes you will be able to shoot will have to be on some serious acreage. Most of us are shooting in neighborhoods where homes are far less then 1000 feet (500 feet for both structures) apart. Furthermore, considering most UAS have gopros or similar ultra wide angle lenses, shooting a home from 500 feet away might allow you a small glimpse of the structure, not the dramatic image we are looking for.

    All of the restrictions in this certification don’t seem to be worth the effort and expense.

    That said, Doug Trudeau just got some big time national exposure.

  • The way around the 500ft limitation is you will see that it applies except for take off or landing. SO, better shoot on the way up, while up you are up you are preparing for landing aren’t you?, and then on the way down. It’s all a matter of interpretation. This not a fixed wing aircraft so who’s to say you weren’t checking the winds prior to landing to assure that you will make the landing safe? Would be an interesting battle. I’ve seen helicopters hover above the landing zone for quite a few minutes while the PIC evaluates the current wind conditions.

  • Dave said: “The FAA has to have some control over something as dangerous as a drone flying around.”

    Dangerous?? There are tens of thousands of these things flying – where is the carnage? Where is the blood and mayhem that you are predicting? Where is the actuarial evidence that these things are “dangerous”?

    I am still waiting for the news report of the FIRST serious injury to someone not involved in the flight of a small multirotor UAV. The closest I’ve found was a reporter attempting to pose next to a micro quad copter in a Friday’s restaurant and the propellers clipped her nose. No stitches were required – just a band-aid. Hardly a serious injury, and I would argue that since she was posing with the drone for news video, she was a participant in the flight.

  • Chet said: “he way around the 500ft limitation is you will see that it applies except for take off or landing.”

    No, the 333 exemption specifically says 500 ft from any any other structure. nothing is said of takeoff and landing.

  • @Steve:

    Part 91-119 of the FAR: Sec. 91.119 — Minimum safe altitudes: General.
    Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes: and it goes on to describe in Paragraph C: (c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

    In the ruling, relief is granted with conditions and exceptions. Item 31, B The aircraft is operated near vessels, vehicles or structures where the owner/controller of such vessels, vehicles or structures has granted permission and the PIC has made a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer to those objects and determined that it does not present an undue hazard, and..

    The general Part 91-119 is of course in effect – else no aircraft would ever be able to take off or land and not violate the FAR’s.

  • Chet – the topic is Doug Trudeau’s exemption. Not part 91 for General Aviation.

  • That is what we are discussing; Doug’s Exemptions.

    He as been granted and exemption from the specified FAR’s. Does that mean all the rest of the FAR are not applicable? I don’t think so. These exemptions allow him to operate the Phantom with the structure of FAR Part 61. If you notice, relief for 61.13 was requested and that was not granted! Does that mean he can just ignore it? Again, I don’t think so!

    I believe that all of Part 61 is in full force and effect when operating the aircraft (the very specific Phantom in this case) and the specified sections are Exempted with the conditions stated in order to allow him to fly the drone and not be in violation.

    Your opinion my be different, this mine from dealing with the FAA for 40 years as a pilot; a CFI and an ATP.

  • Chet – 61.13 pertains to getting an airman’s certificate. What does that have to do with the 500 ft limitation on the on the 333 exemption? The takeoff and landing exception to 91-119 does not apply to Doug Trudeau’s exemption because he is limited to 300 ft AGL *and* 500 ft from other structures. He has to be 500 ft from other structures in all phases of the flight, including takeoff and landing.

    Photos taken during takeoff and landing is what I did when a water park adjacent to an airport wanted aerial photos. I just told the tower that I was going to do a few touch&go circuits while my photographer hung out the window of an ancient C150.

  • Hmmm, as I recall it, the 500 ft (1000 ft in metro’s) distance from any structure, applies to conventional rotor aircraft in built areas. Trudeau’s petition seeks an exemption from that rule, and he is committing to a maximum altitude of 300 ft, always within line of sight, etc etc.

  • Interesting. After the FAA went into explicit detail on the requirements – much of which discussed earlier and considered excessive/”over-the-top”- they left out one requirement. I did a word search of the entire document and the word “insurance” fails to appear.

  • That’s because Insurance (and Privacy) are not things that the Federal Government can mandate. The FAA’s responsibility, their *only* responsibility is safety of flight and having insurance doesn’t contribute to safe flights. I would take an Act of Congress to mandate insurance coverage, and that just isn’t going to happen.

  • Stay under 400 feet altitude, don’t fly within five miles of an airport, and keep your drone within sight at all times. Real estate photographers/videographers should be able to work within these FAA guidelines.

  • Joana, if that were the totality of the exemption, then tens of thousands of videographers and photographers would cheer.

    Sadly, though, even the Trudeau exemption is practically worthless because the restrictions will make 99% of the target properties off-limits. Specifically “500 ft from other structures”. There’s not many properties that are 500 ft from their nearest neighbor.

  • Well it looks like I might be able to wipe the dust off the wings of my drone in the closet!!!

  • If you read closely about the 500 feet limitation, there is an exception if you notify everyone within that range (e.g. in another house) about the flight, then he may fly. If they come out of their house, then the flight must be immediately discontinued.

  • Wow, you explained in 32 words what it took the FAA 50 to obfuscate.

    “If barriers or structures are present that can sufficiently protect nonparticipating persons from the UA or debris in the event of an accident, then the UA may operate closer than 500 feet to persons afforded such protection. The operator must also ensure that nonparticipating persons remain under such protection. If a situation arises where nonparticipating persons leave such protection and are within 500 feet of the UA, flight operations must cease immediately. When considering how to immediately cease operations, the primary concern is the safety of those nonparticipating persons. In addition, the FAA finds that operations may be conducted closer than 500 feet to vessels, vehicles and structures when the owner/controller of any such vessels, vehicles or structures grants permission for the operation and the PIC makes a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer to those objects and determines that it does not present an undue hazard.”

  • I have been reading so much on this lately and see that some photographers are using them regardless of FAA stand on them. Just not charging for them, including them for free or taking video of the recorded video or subcontracting a hobbyist to take photos.

    So what is everyone’s take on alternative avenues to use this technology in an otherwise already very competitive market?

  • ” Just not charging for them, including them for free or taking video of the recorded video or subcontracting a hobbyist to take photos.”

    Private pilots have been using similar obfuscations for many years to justify their probably illegal flights. The FAA considers all of them a commercial use because someone in the loop is profiting.

    Keep in mind that those rules were written when or even before most of you were in diapers and digital photography, the internet and YouTube weren’t even an idea yet. So, using the FAA’s interpretation of “commercial operations”, if I fly my drone as a hobbyist over my neighborhood and share it on YouTube with my neighbors – the FAA is fine with that. If one of them downloads the video from YouTube and gives it to his realtor to use to sell his house, then my flight just became commercial.

    So, work in teams of two and forget who flew which property.

  • […] “The FAA has taken a positive step by approving Realtor Doug Trudeau’s application, member of the Tucson Association of REALTORS®, for an exemption to fly an unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) for commercial purposes. Images captured using UAV technology will provide residential and commercial property buyers with more information and visual insights than they’ve ever had before.” Read more here: […]

  • @Mike, The issue remains that you cannot get insurance for commercial UAV flights. Even companies that have claimed they are providing coverage also put some serious loopholes and escape clauses in their fine print such as requiring that flights adhere to all applicable laws which could give them the opportunity to easily deny a claim.

    I’ve heard that whether money changes hands or a entity is making a “profit” is not a determining factor when it comes to what is defined as a commercial use. Advertising a property for sale is a commercial use, no doubt about it. If The Man® knocks on the real estate office’s door, they’ll throw the pilot/photographer under the bus in a heartbeat. If the photographer sub-contracted the aerial flights out to somebody else, it could be a question of taking heat to protect the RCMA operator or, more likely, ratting them out to avoid the legal issues.

    Lots of people are out there are using RCMA’s to photograph homes. If you are willing to make the investment and take the risk, that’s a choice. The FAA is probably going to be a minimal threat unless you are very high profile. The much larger threat is going to come from local and state government regulations. If a neighbor calls the city’s code enforcement or police to lodge a complaint, the user may be subject to a ticket right on the spot. While some may argue whether the FAA has the jurisdiction to regulate small RCMA’s, a city prohibition is a legal as church on Sunday. The ticket might be enhanced if the photographer doesn’t have business license in that city. Many cities require ANY business operating within city limits to hold a business license for that city even if they already have one for the city they are based in. Ask your local contractors about that one. They get inspected all of the time. I’ve never heard of a RE photographer being asked for a biz license while on a job. We’re just too low profile and spend most of the time shooting interiors.

    Government regulatory agencies (US) are usually required to announce proposed regulations and allow time for public comments which is one of the reasons it takes so long for these sorts of things to get finished. I haven’t seen a call for comments yet, but if somebody posts that the FAA is seeking feedback on this issue, that would be a good time to send them a letter. The Canadian legislation (proposed or done?) for small craft looks to be well thought out and appropriate with only a couple of needed clarifications. If the FAA adopted it, or used it as a template, the US could have a reasonable set of guidelines in place to be getting on with. The sooner the better before some yahoo really does some damage pulling an unwise stunt, injuring a school bus full of kids (or nuns) and congress reacts with some ill-advised legislation to be seen “doing something about the growing menace.” Not that the issue would have any connection with more sober commercial operations at all.

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