Technology

Regulators preparing to drop the hammer on drones

FAA not expected to go easier on small drones used in real estate

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The Federal Aviation Administration plans to group all drones weighing less than 55 pounds under the same set of rules, dashing hopes for looser regulations on small drones used by real estate brokers and agents to shoot footage of listings, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The proposed rules, which the FAA is expected to unveil this year, would require commercial operators of all drones weighing less than 55 pounds to rack up dozens of hours flying manned aircraft, and would limit flights to daylight hours, below 400 feet and within sight of a pilot, The Wall Street Journal said, citing sources familiar with the FAA’s rule-making process.

The proposed rules could be relaxed before they are implemented, as drone advocates could lobby for looser regulation during a public comment period that will begin when the FAA introduces them.

News of the proposed regulation marks the second letdown for commercial drone supporters in less than a week. The nation’s transportation safety board ruled last week that the FAA can crack down on people who operate drones in a reckless or careless manner, clarifying that the agency currently has some authority over drone use.

Requiring drone pilots to have cockpit experience “will end up excluding someone who has hundreds of hours of experience on an unmanned aircraft in favor of a pilot who understands how to operate a Cessna but not an unmanned aircraft,” Jesse Kallman, head of regulatory affairs for drone-software firm Airware, told The Wall Street Journal.

Some real estate agents and real estate marketers belong to the former group, having gained considerable experience shooting aerial footage of properties that they add to photo galleries and videos of properties.

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Many real estate professionals using drones, like other enthusiasts, had hoped that the FAA would create looser rules for small drones that weigh far less than the industrial type currently used to do things like explore the arctic.

Despite warnings from the FAA, some real estate agents and marketers have argued that they can legally use drones to collect aerial footage of properties.

Some had maintained that as long as they didn’t charge money for the service, they qualified only as hobbyists, meaning they couldn’t be penalized by the FAA. That position lost some of its standing when the FAA stated earlier this year that real estate agents who fly their own drones to take pictures or videos of listings are not engaged in a “hobby or recreation.”

Others pointed to a judge’s ruling that FAA rules governing commercial operation of drones weren’t valid because they weren’t produced through a formal process. Some had interpreted the judge’s ruling to mean that the FAA didn’t have authority over commercial drones.

But the transportation safety board recently overturned that decision, saying that the FAA can crack down on people who operate drones in a reckless or careless manner.

Some drone pilots may hold that the safety board’s decision didn’t answer the question of whether the FAA may penalize pilots solely for having operated drones commercially.