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The devices have become so controversial that many municipalities aren’t waiting for the FAA to make its ruling. Several bills have been offered up at the Minnesota Legislature this year restricting their use. In tiny St. Bonifacius, it’s a misdemeanor to fly such devices. In Deer Trail, Colo., the city has declared open season on drones with an ordinance that would enable a resident to buy a $25 drone-hunting license.
The FAA won’t say how many fines it has issued, but the first was slapped on a Swiss photographer accused of recklessly flying a drone at the University of Virginia. He responded by suing the FAA, and a federal judge recently ruled in his favor, briefly lifting the ban. The FAA quickly filed an appeal, causing the ban to go back into effect.
Many Realtors opt to hire photography companies instead buying drones themselves because they believe doing so protects them from the legal responsibility of operating a drone.
Last year, Charles Eide of EideCom Media and Events received a phone call asking the company to discontinue marketing of its aerial services.
“We complied with their request,” Eide said.
The company now flies only for demonstration and recreational purposes, Eide said, lamenting that he’s lost significant revenue opportunities. He has, however, founded an aerial photography training program called FLYSAFE, which has been attracted hundreds of students from across the country.
Working out the rules
As the FAA works to shape its rules, the National Association of Realtors is optimistic the new federal guidelines will be in the favor of its members.
But Mark, the aviation attorney, noted that there is still a fair amount of uncertainty about what the law is going to be. “There are going to be a lot of ramifications, which is why the FAA is taking so long in trying to figure these things out.”
Geiss, the commercial photographer, knows the risks of using drones firsthand. Even after about 50 hours of flying time and more than 300 flights, he’s crashed his drone six times, including clipping a tree branch.
“What worries me is people going to the hobby shop and throwing $800 down thinking they can do whatever they want,” he said. “People do need training.”
Meanwhile, agents say drones offer an unprecedented marketing opportunity.
Ellen Phelps, a sales agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet in Wayzata who specializes in high-end properties, said in the pre-drone days, photographers would have to hire a plane, or set up a ladder on top of their truck to capture the kinds of panoramic views that might capture a buyer’s attention. Today, for just a few hundred dollars, photographers can capture stunning sky-high images that might lead to million-dollar sales.
“It’s a beautiful way to capture views,” she said. “It is definitely the wave of the future.”
Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376