The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed much-anticipated rules governing the commercial use of small drones that would require drone operators to obtain certification and pilot aircraft without line of sight only during daylight hours.

The proposed rules, which would cover small unmanned aerial systems weighing under 55 pounds and conducting nonrecreational operations, could open the door for real estate agents to use drones for marketing purposes without running the risk of drawing the ire of the FAA.

The agency has explicitly said in the past that Realtors who take pictures or videos of listings are not engaged in a “hobby or recreation,” meaning that regulators could attempt to take enforcement actions against them.

The National Association of Realtors applauded the FAA’s proposed rules.

“Realtors support the proposed federal regulation, which would allow for safe commercial use of UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] technology by the real estate industry for the purposes of marketing real estate,” said NAR President Chris Polychron a statement.

The public can comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which publishes proposed rules at the federal level.

Polychron said NAR will submit comments to the FAA and “continue to work with our members to educate them about the future safe, responsible and legal uses of UAVs.”

Until the final rules are published, however, NAR discourages members from using drones for commercial purposes to capture photography or video without an FAA exemption, he said.

The person flying a small drone would be considered an “operator,” under the proposed rules. The operator would have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA operator certificate for unmanned aircraft systems. To maintain certification, the operator would have to pass FAA knowledge tests every two years.

Those certification requirements are more relaxed than requirements that were part of an earlier version of the FAA’s proposed drone rules that were leaked in November and would have required pilots to obtain cockpit experience in manned aircraft.

The proposed rules also “include extensive discussion of the possibility” of a “more flexible framework” for “micro” unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) under 4.4 pounds. The FAA is asking for comments on this potential classification to determine whether it should be included in the final rules.

The proposed rules would also set operating limitations designed to minimize risks to other aircraft, people and property.

Such limitations would require that:

  • A small UAS operator must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be the first to maneuver away.
  • The operator must discontinue the flight when continuing would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property.
  • A small UAS operator must assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions, and the location of people to lessen risks if he or she loses control of the UAS.
  • A small UAS may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.
  • Flights should be limited to 500 feet in altitude and no faster than 100 mph.
  • Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas, and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs).


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