Aerial photos are becoming commonplace in real estate listings and promotional materials. Drones are an inexpensive way to take great aerial shots for publication, but since 2016, the government has regulated the use of commercial drones.  If you’re going to use drones for real estate listings, here is what you need to know about the regulations in order to make money and stay out of trouble.

Officially known as “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems” (sUAS), drones have been regulated by the Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) since August 29, 2016.  The regulations have three sections.

Drone Pilot Requirements

Pilots must be at least 16 years old, complete a sUAS online training course provided by the FAA, pass an initial aeronautics knowledge test, and be vetted by the FAA in order to be issued a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate.  The cost for this testing at an approved testing center will be around $150.00, and the certificate process is expected to take several months. There are nine testing sites in Massachusetts.

The knowledge test covers:

  • Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation

  • Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation

  • Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance

  • Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance

  • Emergency procedures

  • Crew resource management

  • Radio communication procedures

  • Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft

  • Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol

  • Aeronautical decision-making and judgment

  • Airport operations

  • Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures

​Drone Aircraft Registration

The new rule covers all drones that weigh between .55 and 55 pounds.  All such vehicles must be registered with the FAA and bear a registration number. The registration fee is $5.00. Failure to register an unmanned aircraft may result in regulatory and criminal penalties.

Drone Operation Regulations

 To comply with the rule, the pilot must:

  • Fly in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace

  • Keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)

  • Fly under 400 feet

  • Fly only during the day

  • Fly at or below 100 mph

  • Yield the right of way to manned aircraft

  • NOT fly over people not directly participating in the operation of the sUAS

  • NOT fly from a moving vehicle

Not surprisingly, there are various penalties attached for failure to properly operate drones, and severe criminal sanctions for serious offenses, such as interfering with a flight crew. The complete text of the new regulations may be accessed here.

In order to avoid problems, a real estate agent should obtain written permission before flying a drone over a client’s property (at a minimum, have a clearly-written email exchange with the owner).  Always stay as close to the client’s property as possible so as not to surprise or discomfort neighbors, and avoid any drone photography if you expect to have people visiting the house around the same time.

Although no businesses want more regulation, it does appear that the new rule is straightforward and fairly easy to comply with.  Once the registration and certification process is complete, it’s up and away!

Steven J. Brooks
Greater Boston Area real estate attorney with experience in closing deals throughout Massachusetts.
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