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Is Getting A Part 107 Certification For Real Estate Photography Worth It?

Published: 26/09/2016
Greg in Arizona asks:

Now that the FAA has their regulations and testing in place, I'm curious how other photographers are handling the registration process.  They have made the testing and process so onerous I'm questioning whether it is worth it. I've about decided its not worth the expense and hassle to get certified.

I'd be real interested to see what people think of the test. I hear it is difficult, not all that related to radio control, and more oriented to FAA policies and reading aerial maps. And that you  really need to take coursework to prepare for the test. I'm sure I could do it, but I'm not sure it is worth it and perhaps I should discontinue aerial work. I know the FAA will be looking for a first case to fine.

[polldaddy poll=9531997]

While I've not taken the test myself my sense from looking at the study materials and the fact that 12,000 passed the test in the first two weeks is that the whole process is much more sensible than the previous 333 registration process. Is it optimal for what it needs to do to regulate small commercial drones? Probably not. There is plenty to complain about.

On the other hand, drone photography and video is fast becoming essential in many real estate markets. When you look at property video these days the sequences that people are getting are amazing. They are getting video that you just can't get any other way than a small drone. Even still aerial shots with drones are stunning. The demand for drone photography and videography is very high. Real estate photographers that can't do it themselves will have to depend on drone specialists with all the scheduling and extra cost issues that that brings.

So, to me, it seems the current part 107 registration process is probably worth the hassle unless you are just shooting low-end homes.

What does everyone think? Please take the poll above.

Larry Lohrman

31 comments on “Is Getting A Part 107 Certification For Real Estate Photography Worth It?”

  1. It's definitely a test you need to study for. I probably spent 20-30 hours studying... purchased a couple of different study guides. Yes, there are a number of questions that deal with commercial airspace, aeronautical charts, weather and other pretty technical things, which honestly I had a difficult time getting my head around. But I did pass! The big thing is you don't need a commercial pilot's license as you did under previous guidelines. You still cannot fly over people, fly at night, cannot fly over 400', and you must fly line of sight. No deal breakers there.

    The FAA now has legs to pursue those who do not have an Remote Pilot Certificate to fly commercially and I've heard they are hiring additional people to help with policing commercial drone operations. Seems like a difficult task, but better safe than sorry. It's not worth the potential fines if you're caught.

    If you don't pass the first time, you can wait a couple of weeks, pony up another $150 and take it again. Kind of like the real estate exam!

  2. There are many very helpful web sites, Facebook groups and YouTube videos to help you study for the exam. There are also many paid services available. I used RemotePilot101 but there are lots more. I studied 6-10 hours but have always had the aviation "bug" but never an actual pilot. Currently 88% are passing it. However, the number (12,000) of those who have passed is somewhat deceptive. I've heard that many who passed were already pilots. Their test is quite different from what is given to non-pilots. Many who have passed may hold a 333 exemption and already are well informed about the national air space; thus the percentage of those who pass may decline a bit going forward. What everyone has to keep in mind is that passing the test does not ensure that you're a competent pilot or photographer; it's merely a license to fly as a remote pilot. Personally I think it was very worth while. Best of luck to you and others who are asking the same question.

  3. At this point, the regulations have full force of law. Shooting real estate with a drone requires the part 107 certificate and a simple online registration of each aircraft (that's also an improvement over the N-number process).
    While you may think that the knowledge doesn't apply to your operations, it's important to recognize that certification is designed to apply everywhere in the National Airspace System (NAS). Knowing how humidity changes aircraft performance might never be an issue for you... until the one time it matters. Same goes for understanding how to operate in different classes of airspace.
    It's also worth considering that as unlicensed operators start to make news for the wrong reasons, municipalities will increasingly restrict where you may take off and land (they can't legally regulate flight). You can play by the rules, or add to future difficulty for everyone else.
    Fred Light has a great take on all this. Getting certified is relatively inexpensive, and not worth the risk of getting caught without it.
    Personally, I'm glad to see the regulations. While I do mostly drone work now, I have been using helicopter for my work for years, and have been scared s***less about encountering a drone in what should be safe airspace.
    There are some inexpensive study aids available through
    The online version of Prepware has practice tests that are a great match for the actual exam.

  4. Your Part 107 certificate lets you fly any UAS up to 55 pounds in all but Class A airspace. The FAA expects the Part 107 pilot to be as knowledgeable as any other pilot except for actually flying an airplane. Since you will be flying with others in different type of airspace, it is necessary that you be aware of how *they* fly as well.
    There are sample FAA questions on my other website:

  5. I was a little surprised at the results of the poll. To me, it indicates that people simply can't contract out these aerial jobs, most likely because the price would be too high and they'd lose customers. I don't have too much doubt in my own mind that if photographers could contract out these aerials, and maintain clients, that they would choose that option.

    What all that above indicates to me is that photographers who do drone and interiors work are charging way too little. In fact, I've known cases where photographers simply throw aerials in for free, using aerials as a tool to gain more clients. This type of thing has created a sort of perception out there that these aerials should just be almost an add on at little to no extra charge.

    Let's really think about what a professional interiors/real estate photographer must do to start offering aerials. He must buy all the extra equipment, learn how to use it and become certified, and then he has to lug all the extra equipment to the site (which, btw is seriously one of my biggest deterrents to getting into aerials, every single trip to the car you're lugging the extra gear!).

    Maybe I am just sort of honking out loud here, but I personally think the minute the word aerial comes up in a conversation with a client, the price of the shoot AT LEAST should have just doubled. You send that drone up even for a single shot, and the fee just doubled. That's more than fair in my estimation. I don't think that's even close to what we're seeing though. At the root of this problem is the fact that there are a lot of photographers out there at this point who have a drone, and that's pretty much all they have skill wise. The hobbyists are pretty much on par with many of the professionals. Over time though I feel this will correct itself.

  6. Worth it?

    That's not exactly the correct question. If you intend to fly any drone for commercial purpose is required! That now a Federal Aviation Regulation (Part 107) and is enforceable by fines. Sort of asking if a Driver License is worth it. No, but if you intend to drive a car you better have one.

    Just study the materials, take the written test and be done with it. Far easier, less expensive that getting a full pilot license and the old 333.

    I have mine, got it Day 1.

  7. In the Tampa Bay area, we have lots of airports and a lot of professional sports stadiums. Without understanding this material, I think you could get in trouble pretty quickly around here.

    As others have said there is a lot of material on the web that will help you. I thought the study/strategy side on this site was particularly helpful in directing my reading/study for the test.

    Anyone have recommendations for insurance companies? I know I want liability but are the drones themselves worth insuring?

  8. I passed the test (I got 85 average on the practice tests and 72 on the FAA test). I am waiting for my certificate. I think that real estate agents would rather deal with a real estate photographer who can do drone photography/video than hiring 2 different people.

  9. Thanks everyone. I really appreciate all the comments and referenced resourcs. I tried Stephen Mann's sample test cold and only missed one question, so that's a good sign. I had discontinued my aerial operations the end of August.

    This helped make up my mind to go ahead and prepare and take the test.

    Again, thanks everyone for your comments.

  10. For me, passing the Part 107 Knowledge Test (82%) is just the start... I also need to file for a Waiver to fly in Class D airspace because most of the properties I will be shooting are located within the five mile radius of the airport. I understand it can be up to a three month wait once you file the papers with the FAA.

    Has anyone gone through the Waiver process? 333 or 107. Would be interested in hearing how you prepared the papers. I hired a Drone Attorney to help me fill out the Waiver... but haven't filed just yet.

  11. So everyone knows, any airport with a tower requires an FAA Waiver to fly within a five mile radius of the airport. Big cities have Class B and C airports... Class D airports are smaller cities with airports that have Control Towers.

  12. Patrick,

    It seems to that you can request airspace authorization here.

    I have not tried this process yet, but I'm hoping an airspace authorization request is a lot faster then the waiver process. We are wall to wall airports in this area.

    It would be great to hear what your experience in getting permission is.

  13. Thanks Felix... yes, I have read that... and most of it I can fill out on my own. However the descriptions are important which is why I hired a drone Attorney to provide the language. They said they Waivers all of the time (333 and 107)... but it does take up to three months. I don't like some of the language they provided me but they assure me that this is the language that they know has been approved. For instance I state that I will only fly up to 200 feet and I will use a cell phone to call my planned flights in for the day to the Control Tower. This differs from my understanding of the 400 feet and a two way radio to stay in contact with the tower. They said that the 200 fee height is a way of mitigating any hazards and the cell phone contact is a way to stay in touch with the airport tower without having to contact them on each and every flight. They assure me that this stuff has been approved before.

  14. If you want more information, this just popped into my email:

    With the ink for 14 CFR Part 107 barely dry and temporary Remote Pilot Certificates hot off the press, there is a large amount of confusion and misunderstanding regarding commercial UAS operations. This is the webinar you need to see!

    Kevin Morris, from the Federal Aviation Administration, will provide up-to-date information regarding the background to Part 107, a comprehensive Rule review, submitting a waiver/authorization request, as well as important safety information for all UAS Remote Pilots.

  15. I think it's another tool in the bag for a photographer. I can help give you a competitive advantage that might lead to more exposure. I press released my Part 107 and received a write up in two local newspapers and a respected real estate magazine. It's a buzz word that you can use in your marketing strategies. I spend countless hours on my digital marketing efforts, and I think Part 107 is another hook I can drop in the water. Additionally, I sincerely enjoy aerial photography and the perspective that it gives. Even for small homes it can work... You can use an aerial perspective to show community features or proximity to certain landmarks like parks or a downtown skyline. I charge an add on fee to my normal shoots of $50 per 15 minute flight, or $100 for a single stand alone shoot. I have flown over 100 hours in the last 12 months. My ROI has been great!

  16. Thanks for all the comments. I took the suggestion on RemotePilot101. Spent several days watching the videos and passed the test. It took less than a week from the time I started the training until I passed the test and filled out the IRACA application. That's the good news.

    The bad news. Almost every inch of the Phoenix area is within 10 miles of a Class D airport, or covered by Class B air space. When realtors want photos, they aren't going to wait 90 days for a waiver. I wonder how others are handling this issue??

  17. yep Gutton... passing the test is only the 1st step for us who are in areas with Class D, C and D airports. I'm in Palm Springs (Class D) and have the same issue. I hired a drone attorney to provide me with the Waiver language to submit to the FAA... language that they assure me will be acceptable to the FAA. However, as you say, it can take up to 90 days to receive approval for the waiver.... but not much we can do about the wait. Just hope the language is approvable.

  18. I find it interesting over 25% of people have no plans for getting a license. Like Chet said above, it is the law, it is like getting a drivers license. And I can tell you, IF ANYTHING should happen and you are doing this for money (whether you specifically charge for the aerial or you try to back door it in some other way) it is going to cost you a lot of money, maybe put you out of business. Through training for the test you will understand why there is different airspace and what you need to do to be legal. I would also think at this point most knowledgeable brokers and agents are going to require you be licensed as they likely could be liable.

    It is not hard, just takes some time and a little bit of money but the barrier for entry is MUCH if you do not do it, others in your market will.

    Finally, the process for approval, if you need it, is you have to go to the FAA website and submit a request there. I initially called the tower as the training in the remotepolot101 indicated but there is a new process - a form you have to fill out. And I will tell you it took me 1 week to get a plan accordingly. In Seattle, all of Mercer Island, for example, is Class D airspace which means you must get approval before flying.

  19. Getting a part 107 is definitely a must if you want to fly a drone for commercial use. It is the law now and I head it will be strictly enforced as well as some hefty fines. I have taken the part 107 test and it is pretty challenging. I studied for about 2 weeks and got a 90%. It is well worth it to get a license especially if you are a realtor planning to use drone video and pictures for your MLS. An easier way is also to hire someone who has a part 107 license and just build a strong working relationship and you won't have to worry about editing and doing post production and focus more on selling. From my experience, now that the new law for drones are up, realtors are just outsourcing for their aerial shots just to make sure they are in accordance with the law.

    What is everyone's take on this issue, are more realtors wanting to get their own license or just out source?

  20. Both myself and my business partner are Part 107 certified. In Los Angeles the airspace is a major issue and the web portal is pretty much useless since the typical job has a 3 to 5 day lead period which is not enough time for an authorization to pass the system in class delta or echo. After passing the test and prior to the web portal going live, we simply called the airport manager and explained our intention, location, altitude, duration and told them we'd be monitoring the tower on a 2-way (CTAF) throughout our proposed operation and they were cool about it. Since October, we've filed DROTAMs on SkyVector for all operations, but only taken jobs that were in uncontrolled airspace since all authorizations to the portal kick back after a few days saying they need 90 day lead time. It's pretty obnoxious, but hopefully the system gets streamlined soon.

  21. It's all quite new, but I think once the FAA wraps their hands around the violations they will be easy to track. I don't think this will be much different than hiring a contractor who doesn't have workmans comp on an employee. They will simply hire an group of enforcement officers and they will pick up the local real estate magazine and then pay a visit to every agent who has an ad with an aerial photo. Agents who hire a drone photographer without seeing their Part 107 certificate are asking for trouble. I don't think the "I hired someone excuse" is going to get the out of the fine. Eventually, someone will put their drone right into the flight path of a landing jet and make the national news.

    Take off is optional, landing is not.


  22. Just as an update, the FAA confirmed in writing this week of the fines that can be applied. For a pilot who is unlicensed, the fine is $1,100 per occurrence/flight where imagery is used commercially. More importantly perhaps, the fine for the the real estate agent who hires an unlicensed pilot is $11,000. Of course, if you're an agent who bought a drone and took the photos or video yourself, you will be liable for both fines.

  23. @David Murdoch, Do you have a link or a scan of the official FAA notice of fines? The agents in my area don't even realize that a license is required and after talking with them, they don't care if who they hire is licensed or not as long as they're cheap. It's kept me away from investing in a license and UAV.

  24. @Ken Brown. It was an email in response to a question about it from a commercial drone operator to the FAA UAS help department. The recipient gave permission to share it. It has been widely dispersed on social media this week and a few people have included it in blog posts already. Larry has a copy and may be able to post it at some point.

  25. There are many real estate companies that require licensed (and insured) pilots, but think of it this way: How many incidents of your drone into a flying object (plane, helicopter) would it take to put you out of business (and likely into bankruptcy), and likely your client as well?

    If you are not a licensed pilot, then you likely do not understand the rules and probably can't begin to understand airspace and where you can and can't fly. For $200, is it really worth the risk you are putting yourself, and your client, in?

    A great example is in Seattle - Mercer Island is a high end area close to Seattle with likely every home over $1 million (just the ground is worth that), but the WHOLE island is in a class D airspace, meaning no one should fly there without the FAA approval in advance (meaning their up to 3 month period to get it). Boeing field and Renton airport are close by. I have seen lots of aerial shots there and my guess is they are all illegal. If the FAA wanted to go after people, all they have to do is go on the real estate websites and search in Mercer Island and start fining agents, who are then going to come back to you as the illegal pilot.

    If you do not know what Class D means and its restrictions, and you are flying drones illegally, you should stop now and understand it because you could be putting your clients at a big financial risk with these fines...or worse.

  26. As an FYI, here is an article where a guy was fined $55,000 for 5 different illegal flights, so backing up the $11,000 fine.

    Also, you need to check with city laws. Seattle for example ONLY allows for Sec 333 exempt pilots currently that hold a specific exemption for filming (per discussion with a city person, he did say they were looking at the 107 stuff). No one knows this as I see aerial photography for a lot of listings. If you are doing any commercial work in Seattle without a Sec 333 exemption, you are violating the law, and the city just did sentence one guy to 30 days in jail for crashing a drone into a lady last year. Flying in city parts requires yet a separate permit too and is not allowed in general.

    They have an ordinances that is for Film production and per the city, real estate photography falls under this. Besides a $25 permit (and a minimum of 3 days for the permit), you have to comply with a bunch of other rules, including;
    - The exemption must specifically authorize closed-set motion picture and television filming, and must specifically authorize operation at or below 200 feet above general
    ground level for the purpose of closed set motion picture and television filming. Operator must comply with any and
    all additional conditions and limitations set by the FAA in the Section 333 exemption.
    - submit the flight plan to the City 3 days before
    - must deliver advanced notice to ALL properties within view of e operation a minimum of 72 hour prior to the activity.
    - $2 Million Aviation Liability Insurance and $1 million general liability insurance.

    see their FAQs.

    And the general rule of Sec 333 is a 500 feet nonparticipant rule the city also referred to:
    Section 333 500ft bubble for “non-participants”.

    “All Flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all nonparticipating persons, vessels, vehicles, and structures unless:

    a. Barriers or structures are present that sufficiently protect nonparticipating persons from the UA and/or debris in the event of an accident. The operator must 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 in a manner ensuring the safety of nonparticipating persons; and

    b. The owner/controller of any vessels, vehicles or structures has granted permission for operating closer to those objects 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. This means that there needs to be a bubble or barrier between the public and your flight path. This can be mitigated by the drone flying directly over a building, blocking the path if the drone has an unexpected landing.”

    So, the law around aerial photography for real estate is less than stellar at this point....

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