As Realtors we are always looking for better ways to photograph a house. Aerial real-estate photography is becoming an important part of marketing properties, especially high-end homes. Using lightweight radio-controlled helicopters to shoot photos that show homes in context to neighbors, golf courses and other nearby landmarks is a new business, and the federal (FAA) rules are not clear. But Realtor or not, flying drones in the neighborhood will likely be frowned on by the neighbors, especially those who practice their second amendment rights.
The FAA does authorize the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) also known as drones, for important missions in the public interest, such as firefighting, disaster relief, search and rescue, law enforcement, border patrol, military training and testing and evaluation. And they allow model airplanes and UAS helicopters to fly in a controlled environment.
Today, drones are in our daily vocabulary thanks to our war efforts. And drones perform border and port surveillance for the Department of Homeland Security, they help with scientific research and environmental monitoring for NASA and NOAA, and they support public safety by our law enforcement agencies, help state universities conduct research, and support various other missions for public (government) entities.
But not so much in Florida. Florida SB 92 defines what a drone is and limits their use by law enforcement. Under Florida legislation, law enforcement may use a drone only if they obtain a warrant, there is a terrorist threat, or “swift action” is needed to prevent loss of life or to search for a missing person. The law also enables someone harmed by an inappropriate use of drones to pursue civil remedies and prevents evidence gathered in violation of this code from being admitted in any Florida court.
Recreational use of airspace by model aircraft is covered by FAA Advisory Circular 91-57, which generally limits operations to below 400 feet above ground level and away from airports and air traffic. The FAA clarified that AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and specifically excludes individuals or companies flying model aircraft for business purposes. An operator of radio-controlled aircraft can mount a camera on it and shoot video for his or her personal use, but may not sell the photos or video, and therein lies the rub. Some owner/operator/photographers get around the rule by shooting the photographs for free, but charge for a copy on a disk or flash drive. There are many ways to skin a cat, as they say.
The FAA is not a prosecutorial agency, but it would send a cease-and-desist letter if it became aware of the unauthorized commercial use of a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). By their own admission, there are probably thousands of UAV photographers around the country and the FAA cannot police them all. And there are more up there everyday now that a solid quadcopter is sold at retail in the $500 range. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that more than 7,500 small UAVs will be flying in the national airspace in the next five years.
At the Consumer Electronics Show last month in Las Vegas, the DJI Phantom, a 5-pound aircraft with 14-inch blades, which can fly on battery power for about six minutes with a camera or 25 minutes without, made a big hit. Called a quadcopter, it’s designed as an eye in the sky, and works perfectly for aerial photography. If you’re interested just “Google” them and check out the videos.
Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving Sarasota and Charlotte counties. He is affiliated with Sarasota Realty Associates of Venice. Reach him at 941-681-0312, or firstname.lastname@example.org. See him on the web at www.danesellsflorida.com