You may have heard a Tucson Realtor was approved by the FAA to legally conduct sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial System) photography or videography (aka drone). I would like to provide some information on that topic as well as dispel any misconception. Not as someone analyzing or guessing, but as that individual living it.
Since the approval by the FAA back on the 5th of January 2015 I have received hundreds of requests by phone and email. It has gotten to the point that it has become too distracting to my real estate business. Let me give some background.
I am first and foremost a Realtor who primarily lists homes. As a service to my clients I offer professional level photographs, custom built virtual tours, and voice over video. Three methods to visually market homes Aerial videography will be less than 15% of each video I will be preparing. That translates to 10-20 seconds. Aerial photos around 10% if those posted. For Buyers, I have done some community videos to acclimate them to the metro Tucson area. Again, aerial videos will be just a small part. Why did I spend so much money on high quality photography and video equipment? Simple, most of the photos I see lack the quality and vision to capture the true character of a room, yard or frontal view of a home. Many photographers don't even stage the room. Some professional photos show more of the clutter on the counter than the quality of the granite counter and how they accent appealing cabinets. Many virtual tours are canned and boring with a repeat of pictures in the MLS. So, I custom build mine. I am a perfectionist with an eye for getting the best out of a photo. Aerial photography and video allows me to enhance visual presentation to show aspects impossible to show from the ground or on a 30' pole.
So, is it worth it to pour hundreds of hours into 2-4 photos and 10-20 seconds of video? Yes it is! Especially when my client's homes sell faster and for more. Latest home went under contract in just 12 days in a 60 DOM market for approx. $5,000 more than I anticipated based on comps. Last month I sold a home three other Realtors could not, in just 17 days for what the Seller really wanted. Seller brags still today how the photos, virtual tour and video sold his home so fast. Six months ago I was shocked with a sale $12,000 over what CMA's predicted; with a little bit longer time frame during the slow sales season where nothing was moving. High quality visual marketing sells. That is my niche Aerial video/photography will be a vital part of that.
Do I want to take the risk of me and my clients being fined because I chose to ignore the FAA? Heck NO!!! I have a responsibility to protect my clients, so I must do everything in my power to do so. To act otherwise is irresponsible. We all know that is being done. What does that say about the person doing it? High ethics, integrity, and honesty just won't let me go that route.
So, now to the questions. Please understand, the distractions have made me nothing, and have too many times taken me away from business. Which is why I hope this communication will reduce the 5-10 calls a day and more than double amount of emails.
Question: Did you use an attorney? No I did not. It took me 3 weeks of reading FAA CFR's and what the movie companies had submitted to see what applied to me. I was flying by the seat of my pants, so I had to create what wasn't there.
Question: Will you review my petition? Sorry, but the answer has to be no, I am a Listing Agent, not a consultant or Attorney. Goes back to my prison days when inmates would ask me in the chow hall if they could get an extra piece of cake. I would tell them not a problem as long as there was enough for the other 799 inmates. They got the message. Not enough time in the day for my own real estate business, so that would be impossible to take time out to review all the requests.
Question: How do I submit a petition? Simple, go to faa.gov & search "section 333." There is much more information there than when I started. Much easier today than when I did it. If someone is truly interested they will put in the sweat equity to do it. If not, well not everybody should be flying sUAS.
Question: Can you send me what you submitted to the FAA? Sorry, but the answer is no, it's public record. Simply go to regulations.gov and search "Douglas Trudeau." Every paper I submitted, all the comments received, the FAA summary, and the FAA's approval is all there accessible to anyone willing to "make an effort."
Question: Can I call you if I have a question? Sorry, but I have to say no, I am a Realtor, not a consultant or Attorney. These type of interruptions and phone calls are why I am leery of long distance numbers. Some have been inconsiderate by trying to keep me on the phone while I am researching for a client or even with a client. Even after I politely try to excuse myself. Emails apologizing for the interruption with 5 long paragraphs of explanation.
Question: How long does it take? The standard process is 120, mine took 177 days because it is unique. Since the foundation has been laid, I would expect future requests will be shorter. If inundated with requests, first come best written, first served. There are attorneys who specialize in section 333 petitions.
Question: How many hours did it take you? Honestly, I haven't had the time to calculate it. I may be working for pennies on the hour when all is said and done. Plus I have a lot more to put in. Let's leave it at high hundreds, rapidly approaching a thousand or more. Could end up more.
Question: Can I fly my sUAS in a congested area. That is an FAA question. What I know is as my approval stands, roughly 90% of the area I work is wiped out. I have to spread to further less dense areas. Shame on me, I have to sell million dollar homes to start out. Hmmm? That was not part of the original plan. Two ways of looking at it, after all the hard work maybe I deserve higher commissions? Second, is after I prove myself I will be able to petition for an amendment to fly in more dense areas. Again, pioneering for others to follow to help the little gal/guy.
Question: Do you really need a Pilot license? Unfortunately yes. However, I do not have to be that pilot. I have one designated pilot who meets the conditions of the exemption and approx. a dozen offered to me when and if I need them. Paying $10,000 for me at the moment to get a license? Not a good ROI at this time. However, I am going through one of the first trainings that will be proposed to the FAA for sUSA, UAS, and UAV operations. Being developed by FAA qualified flight instructors. I am their guinea pig.
Question: Do you really have to register your sUAS with the FAA? Oh yes I do. In fact I am in the middle of that last step now. Buyer beware, I will explain further down. Also, should I decide to sell it, my Phantom 2 Vision + soon to be a registered aircraft with the FAA, I have to notify the FAA and the Buyer has to re-register it. If I dispose of it, I have to notify the FAA. Did you see that one coming?
Question: How many conditions did the FAA place on you? Thirty-three (33). I am almost finished meeting all of them to get in the air and comply with the rest.
Question: What does it feel like being the first Realtor in the United States granted a 333 exemption. Two words, awesome and overwhelming. All at the same time.
Now for the things not asked, but if you are considering sUAS for aerial photography and videography start doing your homework.
Get training. Again, be leery of these training programs that claim to be certified. Who is certifying it? To date, definitely not the FAA. Some range from a few hundred dollars to into the thousands. If you get it for knowledge and experience, by all means. These are not toys you throw into the air. These are considered unmanned aircraft. And, I agree there are too many individuals treating them as toys threatening our skies. I practice with mine 2, 3, sometimes 4 times a week. I joined the AMA and practice in different weather conditions, imagining different scenarios. An Attorney from Chicago came to Tucson with his family and brought his Phantom with him just so he could fly with me and say he did. He has more months experience than me, but he commented that he thought I was by far a better low level pilot. Especially when I took video of his on the tarmac as I did a Top Gun Fly over only a few feet above his. Video came out awesome, he loved it. I have gone to the park with nobody around and flown through and around trees. Tested the battery running low to test automatic return home. As scary as it was, shut the controller off to test automatic return home. Practiced how long it takes to descend and land when manned aircraft are seen a mile or two away. Practice, practice, practice. Buy a simulator like I have to create muscle memory and to take the panic out of what to do. You will panic at some point in time. It's just a matter of when. Better to crash on a simulator thin real life.
Buyer beware. As it currently stands, and I just lived through this one, if you buy an sUSA from a foreign manufacturer on their website... Are you ready??? You "must" show proof that it was not registered as an aircraft in the foreign country. Thank God I bought my at the local hobby shop. That was the 24 hours in this process that infuriated me. When I got the message they had reconsidered, that was the best birthday gift of the day. Thankfully, level heads prevailed. I still had to show proof of purchase with my name on it. Bet you didn't see that one coming. DJI is working on resolving that right now thanks to my notifying them. So, you Realtor buyers owe me referrals.
Just because you get an exemption does not mean you can go into the air and start photographing and videotaping tomorrow. You have to submit a COA with every flight. Thankfully my trainers are going to help me through that one. That will be the next hurdle. My understanding the hardest and most frustrating part of the whole ordeal.
Get insurance. That is another form I have to fill out and send to the company to get estimates. Hit somebody with one of these babies, and it's attorney time.
If you want information, research it. Better to know more than less. I have self-taught myself a lot, with more to come formally. Safety is vital, as well as respecting public privacy. Fly dangerously, recklessly, or ignorant of laws & safety, and you will be hurting more than yourself or others on the ground. You will be hurting others like me who want to do it right.
Stay safe and I hope this does two things. First help you out who are interested in sUAS for your business, and buy me less interruption. I have to go sell homes and think of how I can elevate to the next level or better service for my clients.