Should Drone Photography Be Outlawed?

Image courtesy Debra Wellins

The FAA thinks that drone photography should be outlawed. It has spent a lot of time and energy investigating the use of drone photography especially in the real estate market. Real Estate drone photography has seen explosive growth over the last year and it seems the FAA is not happy about all the new drones in the air. Their massive investigation has most likely been the root cause of the decision by NRT, the nation’s largest realty broker, to forbid it’s members from using drones or footage made by drones as part of their work. (see NRT’s statement below) Currently FAA does not have any problem with drone photography as a hobby. However the use of drones commercially is prohibited, hence the NRT ban. The reasoning for the FAA’s investigations into commercial use of drone photography is apparently about safety per a statement last month by FAA administrator Michael Huerta: “We have a mandate to protect the American people in the air and on the ground, and the public expects us to carry out that mission.”

It’s not all about safety though

The FAA has it all backwards. Drones used for most commercial purposes would be safer than those used by hobbyists. Here’s why I think this: a drone used to photograph or video a real estate property, event, or farm, etc. would be used to increase the value of the company using it therefore it would be imperative that the company operate the drone safely and professionally. Beyond that reason, the company would need to operate safely in order to minimize insurance claims and possible lawsuits for damage. However, the likelihood that a hobbyist is going to 1) not carry insurance or 2) not get a little crazy in their flying is very high. The “hey guys, watch this” factor is high with hobby pilots. Just watch any teenager on a bicycle or skateboard. Safe flying is imperative of course but the FAA’s rule to disallow commercial drone flying but allow hobby flying is simply backwards and most likely just a flexing of muscle over a fear based idea.

This is a REAL[estate]problem

Using drone photography for real estate purposes is risky because of the FAA’s rule. Anytime the footage from a drone surfaces the FAA is there to swoop in and start their investigation. There are many investigations, especially in larger cities like New York, and so the threat is real and intimidating. It is because of this intimidation NRT issued this statement as part of a letter to it’s members (bold use included in original):

Currently the FAA has taken the position that the agency has not approved the commercial use of photography drones by Realtors or by vendors who may seek to provide drone photography services to Realtors. As a result, until the FAA issues clearly defined rules, our companies in the Northeast and Eastern Seaboard regions will not be procuring drone photography from any vendor, nor will we process and distribute any drone photography provided to the company by an affiliated sales associate.

The statement is so broad that even if a hobby drone photographer takes pictures of their own house and provides them to the realtor the footage will not be used in the advertising of the home. In 2013 NRT’s members includes approximately 42,000 members who closed over 320,000 sales of real estate spanning 40 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas. I’m sure many of these agents are upset over the mandatory rule that is not based on fact but based on fear.

Image courtesy DJI

What NRT should do

Instead of cowering in the corner NRT should flex some of it’s own muscle and permit if not encourage the use of drone photography footage and at the same time petition the FAA to rewrite the existing rule and stop senseless investigations that are only causing fear. NRT is a large company and so smaller companies will either follow their lead or exploit their decision by making provisions for their competing company to use drone photography to gain market share. Surely NRT recognizes the benefit of drone photography and wants their member realtors to be more profitable and competitive in their markets.

What the FAA should do

Allow permits and provisions for the commercial use of drones. Perhaps drones weighing under a certain limit should be allowed. Perhaps a pilot certification should be put into place. But the existence of a rule against commercial drone photography while allowing the same photography as a hobby is absurd. Want to check the crops to see if they need watering? Own a farm? Can’t do it. Have a garden you don’t sell anything from? Go right ahead. Want to take pictures of that wedding from an aerial perspective and sell them to the couple? It’s against the law. But give it to them and it’s fine. The FAA is trying to limit the use of drone photography to hobbyists and prevent commercial use. Same drone, same photography. But if you’re getting paid it will be illegal. Like I said, absurd and not at all about safety.

What is your stance on drone photography? Do you feel that the FAA and NRT are making the right decision? Tell me in the comment section or connect with me on Google Plus, Twitter, or Facebook.

  Source: Forbes
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