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What Real Estate Brokers Need to Know About The New Drone Regulations - Boston, Dedham, MA

Joseph Coupal - Monday, July 25, 2016

by Steven J. Brooks

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 next month the government’s new commercial drone regulations take effect.  If you’re going to use drones for real estate listings, here is what you need to know about the new regulations in order to make money and stay out of trouble.

Drones, officially known as “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems” (sUAS) are going to be regulated by the Federal Aeronautics Administration beginning August 29, 2016.  The new regulations have three sections which cover (1) Pilots, (2) Aircraft, and (3) Operation of the drones.

Pilots. Pilots must be at least 16 years old, complete a sUAS online training course provided by the FAA and 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 9 testing sites in Massachusetts. Here is a link to the list.

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, and
  • Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures

Aircraft. 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.

Operation.  To comply with the rule, the pilot:

  • Must fly in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace
  • Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)
  • Must fly under 400 feet
  • Must fly only during the day
  • Must fly at or below 100 mph
  • Must yield the right of way to manned aircraft
  • Must NOT fly over people not directly participating in the operation of the sUAS
  • Must 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 is a partner with Brooks & Crowley LLP, a real estate and personal injury law firm with offices in Boston, Dedham, and Norwood, Massachusetts.  Steve may be reached at 781-251-0555 or

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