FAA on Track to Release Drone Rules by June

May 13, 2016

Federal officials intend to publish long-awaited rules that will enable the general public to use small, unmanned aircraft for commercial activities before the end of spring, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials told a group of real estate professionals who visited the agency in Washington Thursday afternoon during the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

REALTORS® meeting with FAA officials Thursday

The rules will pave the way for people without formal aviation training to gain government authorization to use the aircraft, known as drones, for aerial photography, roof inspections and other business purposes. The FAA expects there to be strong interest in those permits, given the widespread availability of the lightweight devices, which the FAA calls unmanned aviation systems (UAS), said Danielle Corbett, an aviation safety inspector in the agency’s UAS Integration Office.

The FAA currently requires people who want to be able to use drones for commercial purposes to obtain a special exemption, known as a Section 333 waiver. These waivers are available only to people who have a pilot’s license, but still Corbett said that the FAA is having trouble keeping up with demand for the waivers. Regulators have issued about 5,000 Section 333 waivers, but have received about 15,000 applications, she said.

The FAA’s top priority in developing the drone rules is to ensure that the devices can safely share the skies with other aircraft, Corbett said, noting that drones are classified as aircraft and do not have their own airspace: “We’re really concerned about people on the ground.”

She added that while it may seem as if regulators have been moving slowly, especially when compared to the rapid progress being made by companies designing and manufacturing new drone technology, the government has been advancing steadily toward efforts to finalize the drone rules. “We want you to get out there and fly,” said Corbett, who is also a trained pilot.

Earl Lawrence, director of the UAS Integration Office, emphasized that flying has become as routine as it is today because of the FAA’s unwavering commitment to safety and detail over the years, noting that even a seemingly small oversight like an underinflated tire can lead to a catastrophic plane crash. “We wouldn’t have the safety results [we have] if it wasn’t for all of us working together,” said Lawrence. “That’s why you’ll see those of us in the aviation community so emotional” about safety.

Real estate professionals are showing strong interest in using drones as part of their businesses, said Lori Levy, general counsel of the Texas Association of REALTORS® and one of the several dozen conference attendees who participated in the FAA visit. She said her association has made a concerted effort to educate its members about drones, and added that she appreciated meeting the FAA officials in person.

Lou Mayo of Real Living Realty Professionals in Wilbraham, Mass., was also part of the group, and said he signed up for the trip because he wanted to learn firsthand about how the agency is handling drone regulations. He said he's pleased that the agency is developing rules that will allow broad access to drone technology while keeping the focus on safety: “There’s hope for proper regulation that isn’t a burden.”

—Sam Silverstein, REALTOR® Magazine