So you bought a drone to start a real estate aerial filming – photography business or, as a realtor, to boost your listings? Great! Now you’re probably aware that there are regulations in place that you need to be aware of before you start flying your new robot.
This information is being provided as a quick overview of the regulation and how to get the proper permits to allow you to fly legally in the US. It is in no way exhaustive.
In the US, you need to be aware of “Part 107”, which is the small unmanned aircraft system (UAS). 14 CFR part 107 is the rule that allows you to fly in the US for commercial use. To qualify, you need to be at least 16, pass a knowledge test and undergo TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) security testing. This is to earn money – if you don’t plan on earning money from your real estate shots, you can qualify for the “Special Rule for Model Aircraft”. Some real estate agents may think, “Well, I’m not earning money from this filming, so I’ll go for the Special Rule for Model Aircraft and I won’t bother with Part 107.” No – you can’t do that; you have a commercial interest in the shot, therefore you need to get the Part 107.
You also need to register your drone ($5), doable online and valid for three years.
To take the test ($150), you’ll have to go through the Remote Pilot – Small Unmanned Aircraft Study Guide. The test is not just for drones, there are some fixed-wing questions. You need to understand pilot lingo and know the FAA definitions. You must be able to read aeronautical maps, know aviation symbols, understand airspaces and how the weather affects flight.
You’ll have to study it and know it very well. It is not the kind of test you can just show up and pass. To have an idea of the kind of questions being asked, you can have a look at the sample questions published by the FAA. It is a multiple choice test that you answer directly on a computer. There are 60 questions and you’ll have two hours to complete it. The Part 107 exam passing score is 70%, so you’ll have to score at least 42/60. If you fail, you can retake it 15 days later. Be ready to spend at least 15 hours getting ready to take the test (studying and taking a few prep tests).
You can’t take the Part 107 test online. You have to go to an accredited centre to take it.
Many readers recommended the following free Part 107 study guide as a great free alternative to the FAA’s guide.
After passing the exam, you’ll have to register as a remote pilot on the IACRA website. Allow 72 hours after you took the knowledge test before the information is available on the IACRA website.
The FAA provides a summary of Part 107 as a PDF. Many of the points are fairly obvious, such as the need to yield the way to other aircraft.
Other important points:
- You need to be able to see the device at all times, and no, binoculars don’t count. The drone’s camera also doesn’t count. You have to be able to see your drone, period.
- You can’t operate the drone from a moving vehicle (if they had to write it down, someone tried…)
- You need to operate in a class G airspace, which is essentially the “least problematic airspace”, so not near any airport and relatively low. The B4UFLY mobile app by the FAA is a must have to plan your shots. Download it now (iOS and Android)
- Can’t fly higher than 400 feet. For real estate, the property would look like an ant castle at that altitude anyways.
- Max weight of the aircraft of 55 lbs with all accessories. If your drone is heavier than this, please send us pics!
- Daylight only operations defined as 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time, with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
- If you cause damages worth more than $500 or “serious injuries”, you need to report it to the FAA within 10 days.
Here’s the official “Getting Started” guide from the FAA. If there’s one thing you can’t half ass, it’s this.
Good luck, study hard and make sure you apply this knowledge to your flights. Together, we can make flying drones safe for everyone.