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FAA clears first real estate agent to use drone for property photography

By January 7, 2015 One Comment

The Federal Aviation Administration authorized a real estate agent to capture photography of listings with a drone for the first time Tuesday, offering a glimmer of hope to those seeking to use drones to market properties without facing potential penalties from the regulatory agency.

The exemption authorizes Douglas Trudeau of Tucson, Arizona-based Tierra Antigua Realty to pilot a Phantom 2 Vision + quadcopter to “enhance academic community awareness and augment real estate listing videos.” The FAA had previously granted a dozen exemptions to 11 companies in other industries.

In granting the highly-coveted exemption to Trudeau, the FAA stipulated a laundry list of conditions.

For starters, Trudeau must have at least an FAA private pilot certificate and current medical certificate.

The agency has also stipulated that each drone operation by Trudeau involve both a pilot and observer, and that the drone involved in an operation remain within line of sight at all times.

In addition, Trudeau must obtain a Certificate of Waiver of Authorization (COA) that ensures that the airspace for his proposed flights are safe, and that he’s taken proper precautions to avoid other aircraft.

The COAs will mandate flight rules and reporting of any accidents or incidents.

The FAA appears to have cut Trudeau at least some slack, finding that his proposed operations don’t require an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they won’t pose a threat to national airspace users or national security.

The FAA in June warned real estate agents who fly their own drones to take pictures or videos of listings that they are not engaged in a “hobby or recreation,” meaning that regulators could attempt to take enforcement actions against them.

Although the FAA has issued numerous cease-and-desist letters to alleged commercial drone operators, its ability to collect fines against them should it pursue enforcement actions against them remains a matter of dispute.

In March,  an administrative judge dismissed the only case in which the FAA has attempted to fine a drone operator, saying the policy notices regulators had previously issued governing commercial operation of drones were not produced through a formal rule-making process.

The FAA appealed the decision, and the National Transportation Safety Board ruled in November that the FAA can crack down on people who operate drones in a reckless or careless manner. Drone proponents say the NTSB ruling does not address whether existing laws and regulations give the FAA authority to impose penalties for the safe operation of commercial drones.

Regulators are drawing up comprehensive rules for commercial drone use, but it they may not be finalized until 2017.

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