While that massive Government Agency, the FAA tries to hammer-out rules and regulations, the state of commercial aerial photography by light-weight, low-altitude “drones” is quite confusing. Not just to operators, but even those that practice law.

This month (September 2015) was to be the month that the rules and regs would be published, putting to end this industry killing state of delay.  It’s not going to happen.  New estimates are for a 2017 date.  I think it’s safe to say, we’ll have guidelines for operating commercially sometime between now and 2020!

For the record; ZeroDrift Media has been granted a FAA “333 Exemption” , Exemption # 14174.

Several states have passed bills addressing privacy concerns, Texas being one of them (HB 912). The bill makes it illegal to capture images from a UAV of private property or persons on private property without their prior permission.  Quoting:



(a) A person commits an offense if the person uses an unmanned vehicle or unmanned aircraft to capture an image of:

(1) an individual or privately owned real property in this state with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image; or

(2) real property in this state, on which a primary or secondary school or a licensed child-care facility is operated or an individual located on that property, with the intent to conduct surveillance.

(b)an offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor. (c)AAIt is an exception to the application of this section that the image was captured: (1)AAwith the consent of the individual captured in the image and the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image;

(the remaining text in the portion relates to military and law enforcement)

Click Me for the complete Bill. (pdf)

… they have left the door open for those who’s activities are clearly not “surveillance” in nature.   A casual viewing of the VAST majority of aerial video ( youtube, vimeo, etc) captured by  UAV, demonstrates that the use of today’s commercially available UAV’s is an incredibly POOR CHOICE for surveillance purposes.  A fixed focal length, wide angle lens is the norm on these “drones”, which would require the vehicle to take images/video with in FEET of a person to be able to actually identify that person.  From as little as 150 feet, even determining the sex of an individual is nearly impossible, let alone being able to see facial features to an extent that they could be identified.

( Note: I’ll be shooting an example video to attach to this post as an example.   I’ll be using a DJI Inspire 1, a very popular (and expensive) UAV with the aerial landscape / architecture community ).

Should a person be photographed inadvertently and we simply must use that still or portion of video, we will use post editing techniques to remove them entirely or insure their identifiable features masked to protect their privacy.

The privacy issue, while a valid concern, has been blown out of proportion by media outlets looking for attention grabbing headlines.  The same holds true with the “near miss” stories that are so popular these days.  When one digs into the FAA’s actual reports, it becomes apparent that those who “report” for a living, use some seriously creative interpretations of the numbers.  That’s a story in itself and for another time.

So where does all of these leave us … those that want to use aerials to enhance their property listings and/or those of us who are hired to provide the service?

1) Texas law allows aerial footage of real property and persons on it, if consent is given.  Obviously, as a Realtor, your client will give that consent.

2) Texas law allows Real Estate Brokers to use aerial video in their course of business, for promotional purposes. That includes anyone employed by /or contracted by the Broker.

3) ZeroDrift utilizes DJI Inspire 1 quadcopters, approval for our custom hexacopter is forth coming.

4) (* Update: Zerodrift Media’s Exemption has finally arrived). ZeroDrift has submitted and the FAA has accepted our “333 Exemption” documents and expects to receive official notice at any time.  The exemption is for rules written for full-size, passenger carrying aircraft.  Go figure. Until that time we will continue to follow all FAA “recommendations” for safe & responsible operation in the NAS (National Air Space).  US Federal courts have established that “laws that don’t exist, can not be enforced”.  There are no federal laws that apply to the safe and proper use of small UAV’s in the United States.  For that, we wait on the FAA.  Once these regulations are known, we will gladly comply, to the letter.

Our Limitations: When & where we won’t fly.

1) *Within 5 miles of a major airport. Examples are DFW, Love, OKC.

2) *Within 3 miles of any smaller airport with a control tower.

3) Wind.  +20 MPH is risky in tight spaces and video stability can be affected.

4) Rain, immediate threat of rain or electrical storms.

5) Solar Storms.  We constantly monitor magnetic disruptions caused by an active sun; they are more common than most of us realize.  During these periods (typically hours or possibly a full day) the sensitive GPS & Compass positioning systems used in our UAV’s can be negatively impacted, causing erratic control or possible loss of control.

6) Per “recommendations” by the FAA:  400′ max AGL (above ground level) and VLOS (visual line of sight).  Residential Real Estate shoots rarely require a working altitude of more than 100 feet.  We do not fly above 200 feet as a general rule, there is no need frankly.

** Coordination to fly within the airport rings of 5 & 3 miles can be arranged with local Air Traffic Control, but will require 3 weeks to process and additional paperwork & administration of our part.