It seems as though the FAA is flexing it’s muscles in the case of using RCMA’s (radio controlled model aircraft), also known as drones, to do videos of high-end properties. Recently there have been a rash of subpoenas and cease and desist orders issued by the federal agency to realtors in upstate New York for using drone aerial videos of their properties. The FAA claims that it is illegal to use RCMA’s and drones for “commercial” purposes while, at the same time, it is completely legal to use them for “hobby” purposes. In an article in Forbes.com, titled “FAA Struggling to Deal with Drones, Cracks Down on Farmers and Realtors”, Gregory S. McNeal, a professor specializing in law and public policy, states:
“If a realtor films buildings for fun using a remote controlled quadcopter that’s legal. But if she takes that same quadcopter and films buildings as part of her job, that is illegal. If a farmer flies a model aircraft over his cornfield doing barrel rolls and loops, that’s legal. But if he uses the same model airplane to determine how to conserve water or use less fertilizer that’s illegal. This is government regulation at its worst.”
As a former RCMA pilot I know something about flying radio controlled model airplanes. There is some danger around their use, but modern quad rotor drones are usually relatively small in size and are very stable when compared to RCMA fixed wing aircraft or helicopters. I have been interested in doing aerial videos for about 5 years now. I think it would be a valuable asset for realtors in selling high-end properties by showing features that can’t be shown any other way or showing other features in the best possible way. 5 years ago, the equipment needed was outrageously expensive and complicated, but as is the case with most technology, as time passed the equipment became less expensive and easier to use making them viable today. It now seems, due to the popularity of doing aerial videos with drones, the FAA sees fit to address the situation. The problem is, they don’t seem to know the law concerning them. On his blog, “Dronelawjournal.com”, Peter Sachs, esq., an attorney, states:
“Federal statutes, regulations and case law concerning RCMA do not exist.
In the absence of any federal statute, regulation or case law that prohibits a particular activity, that activity is completely legal. That’s how the law works. Nothing is illegal solely because a government agency claims that it‚ is illegal. There must be something engrossed in our bodies of law that actually states that it is illegal. Since there is nothing at all in our bodies at law that make it illegal, at this time, RCMA are completely unregulated federally, and anyone is free to operate them in any manner they wish, whether for pleasure or profit, regardless of what the FAA might claim.”
Although I am a proponent of “safe” operation of RCMA’s for commercial purposes, I agree with most when they claim there is no distinction between using drones for “commercial” purposes and using them for “hobby” purposes.
The use of aerial drone videos has not gone unnoticed by the NAR (National Association of Realtors), either. In several articles on realtormag.realtor.org, the NAR reports on the controversy and the battle with the FAA but, at present, “recommends that realtors not use drones for marketing purposes or hire companies to do so until the FAA issues some new regulations.”
At this point, I am waiting to see how this all plays out, but I most assuredly will be doing RCMA videos as soon as it becomes legal in the FAA’s eyes. I am interested to know your thoughts on the future of drone photography, too. Are you interested in having aerial videos or stills done of your listings?