Can I (Legally) Use a Drone?

That depends. The Federal Aviation Administration offers a compliance path for the use of small unmanned aerial vehicles, but many commercial operators are going it on their own pending formal regulations that are expected by 2017.


There is more than one way for architecture firms to enlist a drone—some with the government’s blessing and many more without. In the category of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which weigh less than 55 pounds, drones offer immense potential for capturing data, images, and videos, and inspecting inaccessible and hazardous areas. But a lack of clear regulations here in the U.S. (other countries, like Canada, offer more clear-cut terms) has led to confusion as to who’s accountable for what and to whom. Such ambiguity threatens the usefulness of the technology in the AEC sector.

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The bird’s-eye view provided by drones can help appraisers inspect hard-to-reach property features, measure property components and generate real-time aerial data. But is it illegal?


John,a Dallas-based appraiser, wanted to add something special to his appraisals of several industrial properties, and he decided that video footage of the properties shot from an aerial drone perfectly t the bill. Over the past six months, John, who asked us not to use his real name, used the unmanned aircraft system to take videos of the structures and their sur

“The drone provides a unique inspection experience,” says John, who adds that the video clips were “a fun thing” that
he added free-of-charge to the reports. “It allows us to get up higher, get a better view of the roof and rotate 360 degrees above the property to provide a view of the surrounding prop- erties. We could not provide that footage without using the drone. A picture is worth a thousand words and video is worth 10,000 words. The client loved the technology.”

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