First 333 Exemption Granted to Arizona Real Estate Droner

For those who were waiting for a pattern to follow to be able to use a UAV for real estate photography and video, their wish has been granted. The FAA has granted the first exemption for a real estate UAV operator. The full list of documents can be found at the web site.The initial petition for the exemption that was granted in January of 2015 was filed back in July of 2014:

“Dear Sir or Madam,

I, Douglas Trudeau, am writing pursuant to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the procedures contained within 14 C.F.R. 11, to request that I, Douglas Trudeau, an owner and operator of small unmanned aircraft, be exempted from the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FARs”) listed below so that I, Douglas Trudeau, may operate my small ultra light weight unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”) commercially in airspace regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”).

As described herein I, Douglas Trudeau, am a licensed Realtor within the State of Arizona; experienced in flying hobby helicopters for recreational purposes. I have added a hobby grade quad-copter UAS to my inventory equipped with a GoPro3+ Black camera with intent for aerial videography/cinematography to enhance academic community awareness for those individuals and companies unfamiliar with the geographical layout of the metro Tucson area, and augment real estate listing videos; following exemption and approval by the FAA. Thereby enhancing their academic research experience for the metro Tucson area.”

comment submitted by the United States Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association called attention Trudeau’s lack of piloting experience and objected to the request to be exempted from requirements for identifying markings on the aircraft.

Later the FAA sent this message to Trudeau:

“You are receiving this letter because you have submitted a petition for exemption to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-95). This letter is to inform you that on September 25, 2014 the FAA released Public Guidance for Petitions for Exemption Filed under Section 333, which was not available to you at the time you submitted your petition.”

Supplemental information provided clarification, petition similarities, distinctions and differences following Astraeus Aerial exemption and FAA letter dated 10/08/2014. Included was a link to a YouTube video demonstration of the capabilities of the earlier DJI model (Phantom 2 Vision), but the link is no longer working.

Also included was a DJI user manual PDF to support the supplemental documents, as well as a graphic warning sign for any curious spectators or observers to remain back. Also submitted as supplemental material was a PDF of the complete DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ manual.

Another later supplemental submitted document contrasted the differences from the Astraeus (granted) exemption. Astraeus was one of the first exemptions granted for a movie production company operating a UAV on a closed set.

The petition included an interesting persuasion strategy: “Aerial video/photography operations for this petition provide service for those businesses, transferees, retirees and others considering relocating to Tucson, Oro Valley, Marana, Sahuarita, or Vail who are not familiar with geographical characteristic, communities, services and other benefits of the area. Aerial video/photography operations for private property owners aide with an enhanced perspective for characteristics, amenities, and benefits a private property has that cannot be displayed through ground level video/photography. Petitioner Trudeau charges no additional fees for ground level video/photography. Therefore, there is no compensation for these services. Aerial video/photography represent a small portion of videos and photos currently offered at ground level for the community as well as private properties marketed for sale. Aerial video/photography is an enhancement to videos/photography already offered homeowners and the public. In most cases aerial video will represent 4-20 seconds of a 2-3 minute video.

Again contrasting with the movie company’s exemption:”The stationary setting of objects poses a significantly lower risks for safety, allowing the operator or Pilot In Command (PIC) to focus primarily on stationary objects for a shorter periods of time. With the movie action scenes, numerous takes may require repeated flights, whereas a stationary object would in most cases require a single flight. ”

Adding “Home owner written consent for aerial video/photography shall be obtained prior to flight. Signs will be posted cautioning anyone within vicinity to remain back a minimum of 200 feet. Observer(s) to assist and warn/advise the PIC will be utilized in situations where spectators may be within 500 feet of the flight area. ”

And: “Additional waiver or exemption for formal health requirements placed on the Operator or PIC is requested. Petitioner is an AMA member. UAV flight competency can be verified/obtained through AMA standards and procedures. ” Trudeau was also granted an exemption from airworthiness and registration certificates

Of interest is the section where Trudeau states “The Phantom has an altitude and radar monitoring function that allows the operator more precise determination of height, direction of flight and distance from the operator PIC. The operator or PIC can monitor GPS lock status while UAV is in flight, with the ability to anticipate loss of GPS locking so the operator or PIC can land the UAV as a precaution. ”

Of course, the DJI does not have “radar” and the “monitoring function” described is actually GPS.  A video link was also included, which is not currently working but is likely a demonstration of the earlier Phantom 2 Vision before the plus, stating that the Vision+ “maintains all capabilities defined in the video”.

Continuing, and addressing pilot certification: “The single UAV utilized in this petition is a hobby grade quad-copter that does not require an airman certificate for non-commercial flight involving less restrictive less regulated flight. Petitioner requests waiver or exemption from an airman certificate since this is a sophisticated hobby grade UAV weighing less than three pounds flown in confined and restricted areas. Additional waiver or exemption for formal health requirements placed on the Operator or PIC is requested. Petitioner is an AMA member. UAV flight competency can be verified/obtained through AMA standards and procedures.”

Apparently the FAA was not willing to relinquish requiring a private pilot license, and in a “supplemental request to the FAA, the petitioner requests consideration of a 120 day temporary airman certificate in accordance with § 63.13, to allow him time to obtain a private pilot certificate or to allow the FAA time to establish minimum UAS airman certification standards.”

In respect to the FAA’s “congested areas” restrictions, Trudeau puts it this way, requesting “modification, waiver or exemption and clarification (within reason) concerning section 91.119 prohibition of flight in congested areas. Such restriction puts home owners in subdivisions at a disadvantage by limiting enhanced marketing of their homes; thereby discriminating against them “.

Nice play!

It will be interesting to see how many will now try to follow this example or if reactions to this exemption will cause the FAA to be harder to convince next time. At last count there were four new applications.

Careful scrutiny of the petition for this exemption will reveal one curious thing — Mr Trudeau mentions that he plans adding a GoPro Hero3+ camera. Nothing wrong with that, except the multirotor he submitted is a DJI Phantom 2 Vison+  which has its own camera and no means for mounting a GoPro camera. Modifying the P2V+ would require submitting another petition. Surprising, nobody at the FAA caught that.


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The Droner’s Guide can provide the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle pilot (“Droner”) with a good collection of  resources, guidance and commentary. The material ranges from beginner safety tips and practice exercises to preparation and requirements for FAA licensing and aircraft registration to applying for Section #333 COA. This little book has a lot more than you expect.