Real estate industry ready for safe, responsible commercial drones

The Federal Aviation Administration recently crossed a major milestone. 

Over 1,300 Section 333 waivers have now been issued for the commercial use of small, unmanned aerial systems – also known as UASs or drones – that weigh less than 55 pounds. That’s big news in the real estate industry, as a significant percentage of those waivers have gone to users in the business of real estate.   

Although wide-scale commercial use for drones is currently prohibited, the FAA’s work to streamline the waiver process has allowed significant momentum to build behind the concept. In addition to increasing its efforts to grant waivers, the FAA has also issued a blanket Certificate of Authorization to waiver-holders for flights under 200 feet.  

Now, operators with Section 333 waivers are taking off – pun intended. 

That’s a big win for many small businesses that are now able to operate for the first time, and a step towards recognizing the economic opportunity that these technologies represent.  

Individual users aren’t the only ones taking note. The U.S. House Small Business Committee recently held a hearing on the need to improve the regulatory landscape for commercial UAS activity. The U.S. House Unmanned Systems Caucus also held a briefing that shined a bright light on this issue. Florida Realtors® President Andrew Barbar represented the National Association of Realtors® alongside individuals from a diverse group of industries interested in using this technology, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, Edison Electric Institute, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Associated General Contractors of America.   

All of this attention points to growing interest in drones as a tool for business – a market desire that’s only going to grow with time. Although the Section 333 process has opened the door for some commercial UAS activity, more needs to be done to provide clear guidance on the road – or skies – ahead. 

The FAA has a number of important issues on its plate as it works through this process. Safety in the National Air Space, or NAS, is a primary concern that we share. Realtors® are encouraged by the FAA’s commitment to study the safety of drone flights that go beyond an operator’s line of sight, particularly for those agents and property managers who work with large commercial properties or in rural areas that are well suited for this type of operation.

In addition, NAR is interested in the possibility of separate regulations for the “micro” category of drones, comprised of machines weighing less than 4.4 pounds. Most operators with waivers to work within real estate are using these micro drones, which are capable of effectively obtaining the desired images. This is exactly the regulatory regime that Canada employs today, and we believe it holds promise in the United States as well.  

NAR also believes in the need to address personal privacy as drone use increases over time. We’re working closely with the “Multistakeholder Process: Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” a National Telecommunications and Information Administration working group designed to address privacy concerns related to the use of drones.  

Above all, we continue to advocate for federal regulations that put safety at the front of the agenda. As more drone operations gain access to the NAS, it’s absolutely critical that the welfare of individuals in the skies and on the ground are protected, and we’re committed to seeing it done.  

NAR looks forward to a regulatory landscape governing drones that is affordable to users and safe for the communities where they operate, and we applaud the FAA’s continued work to make it happen.  

Business owners small and large – including Realtors® – are excited for what comes next.

Polychron is the president of the National Association of Realtors®