Taking to the Sky: Drones and CRE

Your CRE arsenal may soon include an airborne division.  The use of drones –or unmanned aircraft systems -for video and photography is a great fit for the enterprise, and recent changes to FAA policies bring it closer to reality.

Unless you’ve followed the development of this technology closely, you may not be aware of the restrictions on drone use. While it’s not necessary to have an exemption for recreational use of a UAS (think remote-controlled planes), the FAA closely controls their use for commercial purposes. They have sent out a statement in June 2014 clarifying the fact that real estate agents who use of drones for photography of listings are not “hobbyists”, and must secure an exemption to use drones legally. These are granted on a case-by-case basis.

Source: Flickr user Budi Nusyirwan

Just last month, the first real estate agent was given permission to use a drone for aerial photography, joining just 12 other companies (non-real estate) in the U.S. with such an exemption. Things are moving rapidly now, and the FAA estimates that by 2020 there will be more than 30,000 small commercial drones in operation in the skies above us. One interesting proposal from Amazon is the use of drones for package delivery.  The FAA has received a total of 214 requests for exemption from commercial entities so far.

These drones would share airspace with those used for public purposes. Drones are currently used in law enforcement, firefighting, border patrol, and search and rescue. Their use has become a valuable part of these efforts, and is expected to increase in coming years.

Even with an exemption, there are naturally safety requirements that have to be observed when operating a commercial drone. There has to be an observer on hand, in addition to a licensed pilot with an FAA Private Pilot certificate and a current medical certificate, and the UAS must remain within line of sight at all times.

Drones are becoming much easier to obtain, and setting yourself up for aerial photography can be as simple as flying a GoPro camera. They’re becoming more affordable too, and are available from a wide array of vendors. Experts advise that you find a balance between price and ease of use – the more high-end devices are also more complicated to operate.  A price point of around $700 seems to provide quality and simplicity, but you can spend more, obviously.

The interest in commercial drones continues to heat up, and is worth keeping an eye on. In the next few years, we look for their use in CRE to increase. As the regulatory wrinkles get ironed out, the process for securing a commercial exemption should also become more streamlined. As far as what new uses and features will be dreamed up? We look forward to seeing that.

Canadian UAS retailer Dany Thivierge suggests that we will be seeing developments like communication between vehicles and automatic object avoidance. He had this to say in a recent Inman article:

“We’re still in 1982 compared to the computer era. Give us another five years and you’ll see things that you never thought possible. There’s going to be stuff five years down the road that no one’s even thought of yet.”

Are you eyeing drone technology for your commercial real estate business? If so, you might like our recent Q&A with the guys at Spark Aerial. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s continue this conversation on our Facebook page.


Article by Property Capsule

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