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FAA Issues Rules for Drone Photography of Real Estate

faa issues rules for drone photography of real estate

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Published date:

July 06, 2016

Last updated date:

April 30, 2024

By Mark Bingaman

We recently wrote a post on the legalities of utilizing drone technology in the sale or purchase of land called “Utilizing Drones to Buy and Sell Real Estate: Is it Legal?” At the time (January of 2016) rules in the United States allowed for hobbyists to fly drones that weighed less than 55 pounds, but guidelines for commercial usage had not yet been established. However, in late June of 2016, the FAA finalized operational rules for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) being used for commercial ventures, including the photography and survey of real estate. The safety regulations mandate that commercial drones weigh less than 55 pounds and require operators to maintain a consistent line of sight with the drone. In other words, it is not permissible for a pilot on the ground to operate the UAS out of his range of vision and the drone in the air must be clearly visible to the naked eye of the controller. Additionally, even if the aircraft is within view of the pilot, it is illegal to fly the drone over any gathering of unprotected people who are not in some way taking part in the drone flight. For example, you may utilize the drone to photograph land for sale or view a property, house, structure, or neighborhood from high above, but you must be able to see the drone – from the ground – at all times. If there are people nearby who are not involved in the drone flight (perhaps a park is a few hundred feet from the property you're photographing or a busy city street is close by) you must avoid flying the drone over those people. Operation of a drone for commercial purposes is only allowed during daylight, although twilight flight is legal provided the aircraft has anti-collision lighting. No drone may fly above a threshold of 400 feet in the air.

Training and Licensing

Not just anyone can grab a drone and start photographing land for sale. Drone operators must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with that rating. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate. Those with existing certificates must have completed a flight review within the past two years and also must take an online drone operation course via the FAA. Security background checks via the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) will also be conducted before a license is issued. Interestingly, the FAA rules currently require no minimum insurance coverage for potential damage to persons or property.

State Laws and Privacy

The FAA also has issued no declarations on privacy concerns. In other words, is it legal for an operator to fly a drone over the property of another person without their permission? Currently, the answer appears to be “yes.” A number of states are currently beginning to address these concerns in their individual legislatures, so the legalities of drone flights over the property of others may vary from state-to-state until it's addressed on a federal level. The new rules for commercial drone operation go into effect in late August of 2016. Source: More Info (Video):


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