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If You Don't Charge For Real Estate UAV Videography Will The FAA Consider You Commercial?

Published: 17/09/2013
By: larry

CTpostI've been thinking recently that it would be nice to get a statement from the FAA about their attitude about enforcement of their "no commercial UAVs" rule since they seem to be very inconsistent about enforcement of the rule, there is a huge increase in UAVs, and it's going to be a year or more before the FAA is going finish their UAV regulations.

It turns out that we got exactly that. The Connecticut Post has an article about a local Realtor that does real estate marketing videography and photography with his UAV (Thanks to Dave Williamson in Perth, AU for pointing out this article). The CT Post got the following statements from the FAA:

  1. FAA spokesman Les Dorr said Tuesday that agency regulations prohibit commercial operations of unmanned aircraft. "If it's a commercial operation, we want you to stop," Dorr said, adding that because of the proliferation of inexpensive remotely controlled aircraft (commonly called UAVs) it is difficult for the agency to control their use. "We don't have the resources to go out and look for people doing this commercially."
  2. If the commercial operators are located, the FAA orders them to stop using the devices. "Normally they agree to stop. We only pursue a civil penalty if they were operating in a careless and reckless manner that would endanger people or aircraft," Dorr said.

The other significant thing about the article is that Mark Pires the Realtor that's doing the UAV flying argues that he is not commercial because he offers his UAV marketing for free. This is exactly the strategy that "The Cooler" suggested on our original post about the FAA shutting down commercial UAVs. The Cooler's comment was:

There is an easy way around all this (no commercial UAV operation) – don’t charge for the aerial shots.

AJ Hackett, the king of Bungee jumping, for a time was unable to charge for Bungee jumps due to government regulations – so he offered free bungee jumps to everyone – catch was the person needed to buy an AJ Hackett Bungee Jump t-shirt – no t-shirt – no jump. The master stroke was that the t-shirts cost $120

read between the lines folks and the answer is there…

Thanks to the CT Post, the FAA apparently knows about Mark Pires's free UAV marketing so if we stay in contact with Mark to see if the FAA busts him, we'll find out if Mark's strategy works.

12 comments on “If You Don't Charge For Real Estate UAV Videography Will The FAA Consider You Commercial?”

  1. hate to be the bearer of bad news but in Oz the AJ Hackett principle does not apply - even if you take an image for free - if the realtor uses it to help promote or sell the property it is deemed commercial use - I now know this after being contacted by CASA - Australia's FAA - after of my friendly competitors let CASA know

    ( if you are reading this I know who you are and I am about to take all your elevated pole photography business once I have my license - 3 weeks and counting !)

    Australian options now are to do a 2 week course which allows to you to get a operators certificate - this costs about $6k plus the two weeks you have off work


    You can do your PPL - Private Pilots License - theory only. This is very dense and complex but you will feel comfortable knowing when you fly your drone how to combat carburettor ice and at what height an infant should wear a seat belt !

    Once you have a operators certificate you can only fly under someone who has an controllers certificate and is insured . To get an controllers certificate you first need a operators certificate - then you must write up a 40 plus "controllers manual" - CASA then gives you a preliminary pre read meeting. Then if you pass this CASA will read your manifesto for the small sum of about $3000.

    After this you can get insurance - $$$, then buy a bird $$$

    The skies won't be too busy in Oz with these fees

  2. I would argue that if you receive a commission for marketing and selling a property using a
    UAV then it is commercial use.

  3. Splitting hairs and playing legal games is risky. Everyone knows what's going on, both the photogs in question and the regulators. The key is, as noted, there aren't enough resources to pursue. Question is: How risk adverse and 'lucky' are each of us?

    I liken this a lot to having to have a license to use your CB radio years ago.

    The real concern for me is less the FAA. Rather, will my insurance company underwrite my usage? One risk I, personally, would not consider taking is the operation of such a device with out some form of meaningful protection. As a past r/c hobbyist myself, all it takes is one bad battery, some localized RF noise, or a very simple mechanical failure to send a device off course. 99% of the time just fine. But as one young man found out last week, for cause as yet unknown, his r/c helicopter killed him.

  4. Interesting article. The FAA comments are pretty firm.

    Think about being in a inquiry as a photographer by the US FAA. "Ah, photographer, you have this set of images taken at heights of a property where no ladder could go. Your accounting records indicate you do own aerial flying equipment. The metadata on the image files indicate what they were shot with and when (it might have GPS info too.) The Realty Company used those images along with others you may have created for them for a overall fee. They published those images and used them to promote a commercial transaction." not the interview you want.

    So, you can make up your own mind about using these flying systems. Me, when I run into a competitive situation - I will ask the realtor if they believe in ethics and let them know the FAA does not approve at all of the use of the flying systems if used in any capacity for a commercial purpose and that the realty company may become an accessory to the charge - since they requested the aerial flight. -Matt

  5. Would agree with maki I. The realtor would never just provide this for free, the realtor will be recovering the money through commission structure for sure. As has happened above in Aus. those expending the time and money doing the right thing will provide self regulation in the commercial space. They have invested lots of time and considerable money in some instances. Outsourcing to a local licensed operator is the way to go if you do not want to go this path on your own..

  6. This has been a huge concern to real estate pros and photographers for quite some time. I am both, and owner of two RC multirotors. Looking closely, there seems to be a work-around which endangers nobody -- I just cannot fathom what it is. Here are two apparently perfectly legitimate examples of "noncertified" commercial uses in the United States:

    Movies and TV series shots. Everyone has experienced the well-done scenes in these, where the camera flies along with, beside or above the subject. Some of these shots are not from cranes/jibs and not from piloted aircraft. These are perfectly legitimate, and ultimately paid for by the production companies and the of course the end user; this is most definitely commercial.

    Television commercials. Same as above. Marketing companies pass this cost on to the advertiser, who passes it on to the consumer.

    ...and surely there are additional examples.

    Okay, so assuming these are not for research institutions or for military or public use, how does this continue? There must be a "secret" loophole for safe, practical use as in the above examples. These companies are not simply going to stop using their machines - and they should not. So....PLEASE chime in your guess as to the secret. FAA will not and cannot issue a special exemption for the above, so it must be something else.

  7. @Phil - both of your examples 1 & 2 above are not allowed by the FAA. In fact, Rusty Freeman, who I reported on in Jan was engaged in #1 (supporting a movie set) when he was shutdown). See:

    In Rusty's case there appears to be some evidence that the Hollywood union for the guys that run cranes/jibs complained and that had a part in Rusty's shutdown (he operated in the LA area).

  8. @Larry - Well I am not trying to ague or be contentious at all, BUT production companies of very good standing continue to do "UAV" filming. They really do. I just can't see where studio legal departments could permit it unless they exercise some exceptional condition.

    Only a few weeks ago, I saw a skyborne RC camera platform in use at a beach near Wilmington NC (there are a couple of major studios there). I do not know if it was contracted work or just a studio crew, but there it was in plain view and I assume it was for a commercial entertainment film, and not just for location scouting or whatever (I may be wrong about that). I'm sure it was for commercial use, based on the nearby trucks and vans markings (and not from the local university or government).

    All I'm saying is that some folks are doing it and it appears to be okay by all appearances. Just wondered how. IF is is allowed, it certainly is a well guarded secret as to the loophole in use. In other words, I agree with you technically. It is however so unfair to ban something because it has not yet been addressed in regulations yet -- seems to be convoluted logic. (Rediculous analogy: you can't use your wheelbarrow, because there is no wheelbarrow regulations yet.)

  9. @Phil - UAV operators all over the US are doing whatever they please. The FAA has almost no resources to enforce regs. The FAA has shutdown no more that 5 to 10 UAV operators US wide. There are 1000's of operators using UAVs. It's going to get way worse in the next two years.

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