UAV / Aerial Photography – What Realtors® Should Know

Aerial photography and video is one of the fastest growing trends in real estate services. The use of a UAV, a.k.a “drone” (FYI: The industry is trying to get away from the term “drone”. Drones are technically more of a military aircraft) can certainly add a whole new visual dimension to marketing properties. With that said, from the perspective of Realtors and property managers, let’s discuss what to look for when choosing to provide this service to your clients.

Editor’s Note: iProTours.com intends to introduce our aerial video service in the spring of 2015. We will be operating only to the highest of standards as mentioned in this post. For your safety, please ensure your professional aerial video/photography provider does too!

The Legal Perspective

One of the most important things you can do for yourself, and your clients, is to ensure that your UAV operator is operating within the confines of the law. Transport Canada has set some very strict, yet reasonable, rules when it comes to the operation of UAV’s for commercial purposes.

So, how can you tell if your operator is flying legally? Here are a few things to look for:

  1. Did your UAV pilot notify you of the minimum 20 day delay before they can fly for you? The reason for this is because Transport Canada requires 20 days notice in order to process an application for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). Basically, for real estate purposes, your pilot needs a SFOC to fly anywhere within 150 meters of people, animals, buildings, structures and vehicles.
  2. Did your UAV pilot show you a copy of the Special Flight Operations Certificate prior to the flight? By law, the pilot should have this with them at all times during the flight(s).
  3. Did the UAV pilot show you, or provide a copy of their insurance? Simple liability insurance isn’t designed to cover UAV operations, there is dedicated UAV insurance required to ensure full coverage in case of an incident. Transport Canada requires a minimum of $100,000 of coverage – a good operator almost certainly will have higher coverage.
  4. Did your UAV pilot request signed consent from the property owner stating permission to gain access to, and fly over, their property?
  5. Was the UAV within visual range to the pilot at all times? While UAV video is usually relayed to the pilot’s remote control, or “ground station”, it is still required that the the aircraft always be kept in sight.
  6. Were you notified by your pilot that they could not fly within 9km of any airport?

If your pilot did all of this, be sure to thank them. They are not only taking proactive steps to ensure they do not face any, quite hefty ($5,000 for an individual and up to $25,000 for a corporation) fines, but also protecting you from any potential legal actions which could arise from a pilot operating outside of the law. We’re quite sure the Realtor’s association and insurance board would frown on hiring unlicensed, and uninsured, UAV operators to fly over and around your client’s property.

Equipment and Aircraft

UAV’s come in many different shapes and sizes. Aircraft with 4, 6 or even 8 propellers is not unusual. They can be small enough to fit in a backpack, or large enough to carry full size film cameras. The most popular UAV’s for real estate usually carry a GoPro (or similar) camera which is mounted to a specialized “gimble” which is specifically designed to ensure that the video footage is completely stabilized. It’s really quite amazing how far this technology has come in the last few years.

Many UAV’s can now even be flown using a tablet. They can even have GPS “waypoints” programmed into them via a Google map style interface where the operator simply has to draw on the map where they want the UAV to fly autonomously – though for our purposes in real estate, this is rarely used, and in most cases would not be allowed under Transport Canada’s SFOC guidelines.

Some of the top brands of UAV’s include DJI, Walkera, 3DRobotics as well as many others. Even GoPro has announced that they will be throwing their hat into the ring and developing their own UAV system. It’s a very exciting time for UAV enthusiasts, to say the least!

Choosing the Right Pilot

When selecting your pilot, one of the best things to look for is if they have a history of flying model aircraft. Even better, ask them if they belong to the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC). The MAAC has has something called their “wings” program. Basically, as a new MAAC member, one has the opportunity to be mentored by experienced members in order to learn how, not only to fly, but how to do so safely, in a controlled environment. Once the pilot proves their competence, they are graduated and given a set of “wings”. Members are typically very proud of these wings, and tend to hold onto them. If you pilot can show you their “wings”, you know they have learned to fly, the right way.

If you’d like to know what these “wings” look like, here is a set of our iProTours.com pilot’s wings, he has been flying RC for over 20 years! (does that make these wings “vintage”? ha!):

The Proper Use of Aerial Video

In closing, what should you expect from your aerial video? As amazing as aerial footage is, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is showcasing a 10 minute video of only aerial footage. For the most part, aerial video should be used as an accent. For best results, work with a company who will be delivering a proper showcase video of the property – including a mix of interior, exterior and aerial footage. Use the aerial footage to draw the viewer in – front of the property, back of the property, and any other helpful views – such as how far back the tree-line goes in the backyard. As a professional, your aerial video provider should have a pretty good idea of what shots work, and what don’t – with that said, be sure to approach your pilot with any ideas you may have to best highlight the features of the property prior to the flight.

Let’s work together to keep this fantastic opportunity accessible, safe and fun by ensuring that we are all following the rules and doing things the right way.

Helpful Links

Transport Canada – Drone Safety
Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC)

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