Drones Take Off?
Use of unmanned aircraft systems is up in the air.
media has been focusing increased coverage on stories involving unmanned
aircraft systems, also commonly referred to as drones. Glamorized notions of
using UAS for delivering packages ordered online or beer to ice fishing houses
tend to underplay the useful potential of this leading-edge technology.
are numerous commercial uses for UAS, many of which could be invaluable within
the commercial real estate industry as tools to improve safety, make site
review more efficient, reduce costs, and improve the marketing of sites. Some
users would like to utilize the technology today, but without Federal Aviation
Administration approval, their commercial plans are grounded.
cities throughout the country, UAS are being launched by businesses that want
to survey land, take photos for real estate listings with a birds-eye view of
surrounding features and amenities, or review construction projects.
Unfortunately, many businesses fail to realize that just because the technology
is available doesn’t mean it can be used without restriction. Current FAA rules
draw a line in the sand, specifically allowing UAS for recreational use while
strictly prohibiting UAS for commercial use unless FAA approval is obtained.
February the FAA announced a long-awaited proposal that would set parameters
for allowed commercial use of small UAS. Those rules
will require not only public comment but considerable discussion from various
interest groups before they are implemented. Until then, while these proposed
rules provide an insight to what the future may hold, we’re not there yet.
recreational and hobby UAS users must follow some basic rules to maintain
safety within controlled airspace and minimize the risk of personal injury and
property damage. A summary of those rules can be found at KnowBeforeYouFly.org.
contractors and developers are already considering how to utilize UAS to
monitor construction progress or review potential development sites. Architects
and surveyors could use UAS to take photos instead of relying on costly
helicopters and professional photographers.
and residential real estate brokerage companies could launch cameras attached
to quadcopters 50 feet into the air to capture a sprawling estate with amazing
lakeshore or ocean views or to illustrate a retail space’s proximity to
freeways and compatible businesses.
are all commercial uses that require FAA approval. Some businesses that have
been early adopters of UAS suggest that their use is appropriate so long as
they don’t sell the photos or videos obtained. That argument is unlikely to fly
with the FAA if the UAS was utilized for a commercial purpose.
UAS enhance efficiency, economic value, and competitive advantage for real
estate professionals, the uses are currently stymied, as the law evolves to
catch up to current technology. While business users envision the benefits of
the technology, everyday citizens may fear how this technology could invade privacy
or cause property damage, or worse, personal injury.
legitimate concerns regarding safety of the airspace that it regulates, the FAA
prohibits commercial use of UAS, absent explicit authorization. This
authorization can come in various forms, the most common of which is (for
commercial users) a Section 333 authorization. As of the date of this writing,
159 such authorizations have been issued.
the list of organizations that have received the FAA’s permission to fly UAS
for commercial use is continually expanding, it’s fair to assume that many of
the commercial users that are currently taking photos with UAS for business
purposes are doing so illegally. In the real estate industry, some users may be
unaware of the current restrictions on commercial use of this technology, while
others may be ignoring the rules. Others are hopeful that the FAA’s proposed
rules announced February 15 will be implemented soon.
no one knows for sure how long this will take, many are speculating that it
could take until 2017. Even then, the FAA will not be the only rule-making
entity involved, as states and cities have recently begun enacting their own
laws to guide whether, where, and how UAS may be operated. As is typically the
case with emerging law, this is a fluid and dynamic area, where the regulations
will likely evolve dramatically over time.
business has considered using UAS for commercial purposes or has done so in the
past unaware of the rules, it may be time to check in with an attorney who is
familiar with these rules, to explore whether there is a compelling reason,
such as economics or safety, to consider pursuing an FAA authorization in
advance of any change to the rules or to maintain compliance with the rules
that emerge in the near-term future.
some businesses wait patiently on the sidelines, others realize that there are
huge economic, logistics, safety, and efficiency arguments in favor of using
this technology as soon as possible, even if it requires an investment of time
and cost to get FAA authorization. For many real estate businesses, being on
the leading edge and adopting technology that improves business efficiency is
an essential component of its business plan.
Brad Boyd is senior counsel at Fafinski Mark
& Johnson in Eden Prairie, Minn. Contact him at email@example.com.