Drone Photo

As Regulatory Framework Evolves, Drone Use Remains Important to Real Estate

When the Federal Aviation Administration released its final rule on commercial drone use back in June, it represented a big step forward for real estate practitioners looking to put drones to work in their own business.

Today, at the 2016 Realtors® Conference and Expo in Orlando, a panel of drone experts told those in attendance that the skies ahead are set to get even clearer.drones

Danielle Corbett represented the FAA and spoke at length about the process for getting cleared to fly a drone for commercial purposes. She noted the difficulty getting a Section 333 waiver, a process operators undertook before more recent rules went into place, in particular the requirement for a manned pilot’s license.

The current process for earning what’s known as a “part 107 certificate,” which replaced the previous Section 333 waiver requirement, can be gotten “fairly easily” according to Corbett and does not require operators to hold a pilot’s license.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t requirements, however. Corbett told the audience that a knowledge test is required and must be retaken every 24 months. The current regulatory regime also restricts a number of activities, including flights that take place over people or at night.

For that reason, NAR continues to advocate for changes that will make it easier for Realtors® to take flight. Of particular importance is the need for a drone strategy that allows for “beyond visual line-of-sight” flights, or those where the drone travels beyond what an operator can physically see during an operation. For real estate practitioners who are photographing large tracts of land or large buildings, these potential regulatory efforts are critical.

NAR also participated in an FAA-led rulemaking committee in March of this year that’s looking at the potential for drone flights over people. Additionally, NAR was invited to attend a White House Office of Science and Technology workshop on drone technology.

Corbett gave attendees some good news by reminding the audience that a proposed rule for extended line of sight operations, as well as one for flight over people, is expected roughly within the next year, opening the potential for these activities.

In additional to regulatory activity, attendees also got tips on keeping costs down as they integrate drones into their own business, particularly related to insurance. Steve McIrvin, who leads the U.S. offices for Seattle-based Autel Robotics, encouraged Realtors® to talk to their insurance agent about what kind of coverage is required. He also suggested that lower-cost insurance plans are available for operators who fly with minimal frequency.

Similarly, Casey King of the Unmanned Safety Institute added that if an operator plans to get insurance, they may need to consider additional training to earn a safety certificate. This could include actual coursework; King said some insurance companies will require such a certification, but he added that this may also bring down costs for policyholders in the long run.

NAR President Tom Salomone said that as drone use continues to grow, the rules governing drone use may potentially change as well.

“Businesses are more and more finding opportunities to utilize drones as a way of cutting costs and better serving customers,” said Salomone. “That’s true in real estate and other industries as well. As application of this technology picks up, the regulatory landscape will likely continue to evolve too. I’m thankful for the Realtors® who have shared their stories and experience as NAR has made its case over the past few years, and I’m encouraged by where we’re headed.”