Drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (or UAVs), have recently entered the mainstream market in Canada and are now widely used both commercially and recreationally. For use in real estate, the activity is considered strictly a commercial use. Commercial drone use is heavily regulated and compliance is required in order to fly.
Operating a drone means that certain rules and guidelines must be followed to ensure the safety of the drone's team, of the public, and of manned aircraft in the area.
- All drone flights must take place in daylight and in good weather,
- Aircraft must remain in visual line-of-site of the drone pilot at all times,
- Drone operations must be conducted outside of airport airspace, away from populated areas, buildings, public areas, and busy roads, and cannot go higher than 90 metres, vertically,
- The privacy of others must be respected.
While most of these rules are primarily safety oriented, they may also affect when and how one is able to capture aerial imagery, and may even be prohibitive for certain properties.
- View properties with adequate space to fly above that specific property,
- Acreages, farms, and suburban properties,
- Larger properties otherwise obscured by trees, or up a steep grade.
Properties where drone flight is dangerous or prohibited:
- Densely populated urban areas,
- Properties near main roads/thoroughfares, or adjacent to crowded public spaces (parks, schools, etc.),
- Flying over public areas - like streets, parks or even public sidewalks,
- Flying over adjacent properties,
- Condominiums and apartment buildings.
While drones are very easily attainable, acquiring the necessary documentation to legally allow commercial flight is a complicated and time-consuming process. Most drone operations require, at the very least, a Single-Operation Special Flight Operation Certificate, or SFOC – a lengthy document that requires the operator provide evidence of sufficient liability insurance, in-depth knowledge of airspace regulations and meteorology, and in some cases even pilot training. Getting permission can take in excess of 20 days, and getting the green light to fly is contingent on many factors.
Seasoned UAV operators, however, are now able to acquire a “blanket” SFOC, which means they have been vetted by Transport Canada and given the okay to operate without submitting an application each and every time. A drone operator with a blanket SFOC has aptly demonstrated his or her ability to fly safely and responsibly, and has the necessary experience to ensure the flight goes smoothly.
As a homeowner, it is important to make sure the drone operator is in possession of an SFOC by asking the your real estate agent and/or your drone operator for a copy of it. As a subcontractor, both you and your real estate agent would be liable for any claims against the drone operator. You may wish to contact your insurance company to help ensure that your policy will adequately cover the commercial use of a UAV above your property. Aside from the skill an experienced drone pilot brings to the capture of imagery, a pilot that is certified is able to operate legally in a commercial capacity. Risk mitigation, emergency management, and insurance coverage are all aspects of UAV operation that have as many implications for the homeowner and real estate agent as for the pilot. For these reasons, no UAV should ever leave the ground without a corresponding SFOC in the pilot’s kit, and no homeowner or real estate agent should consider hiring a drone pilot without the appropriate documentation. If you are considering allowing your real estate agent to add drone imagery to help market your property listing, here are a few things to consider before moving forward:
- Is the property safe and appropriate for drone flight?
- Is it in a populated area, or near crowded public spaces?
- Is it next to a busy street or main thoroughfare?
- Is the weather likely to be clear and calm?
- Has your real estate agent and the drone operator provided you a copy of the SFOC prior to the flight?