Latest developments on the use of drones

QUESTION:  I received a drone as a Christmas present. Am I permitted to use it to photograph properties I am listing for sale? If not, are there any new regulations governing the use of my drone for recreational purposes?

ANSWER:  We wrote a Q & A on the subject of drones less than three months ago. You can access that article here. However, drones continue to be in the news and there is one new development you should be aware of.

One thing that has not changed is the general rule: the commercial use of drones, including for real estate marketing, is prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) unless the person or entity operating the drone has secured what is known as a “Section 333 waiver”. That waiver will allow you to operate the drone in what are known as “low-risk, controlled environments”. Operating without a waiver will subject you to the risk of substantial fines. You can find the application procedure described on the FAA’s website.

One thing that has changed is the adoption of new rules requiring the registration of most drones in a national database. The FAA announced these new registration rules on December 14, 2015. Under these rules, owners of drones weighing between half a pound and 55 pounds are required to submit their names, home addresses and email addresses to the FAA. Registration is free if completed before midnight on January 20, 2016. After that, the fee is $5 for a three-year certificate of registration. Anyone who owned a drone before December 21, 2015 must register that drone by February 19, 2016. Anyone obtaining a drone after December 21 must register it before their first flight. Once registered, users must put their registration number on their machine, and have their registration card with them whenever they fly a drone. Failure to comply with the registration rules can result in criminal penalties, imprisonment and fines of up to $27,500.

The purpose of the registration process is to make the skies safer. While there no current requirement for drone operators to undergo any flight education course, the drone registration process does obligate the drone owner to check a box acknowledging that he or she has read the FAA’s basic principles of flight safety.

Registration of recreational drones can be completed online. Currently, drones used for commercial purposes can only be registered by paper. However, online registration of drones used for commercial purposes is scheduled to open by March 31, 2016.

Michael Huerta, the Administrator of the FAA, recently confirmed that the FAA is continuing to work on rules governing the commercial use of drones. The National Association of REALTORS® does not expect those rules to be issued before August 2016.

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