Florida CRE Firm Gains FAA Exemption To Fly Drone

Ben Crosby, CCIM, President at Crosby & Associates in Winter Haven, FL recognized that using drones, or small unmanned aerial systems (UAS), would be an inexpensive way to capture aerial video and photos for the thousands of acres of agricultural land that are the backbone of his firm’s commercial real estate business. But he thought the process to gain a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) exemption was too onerous.

However, when Doug Trudeau won an FAA exemption for using UAS in January, Crosby realized he could too.

Trudeau, a residential real estate agent in Tucson, AZ, received in January 2015 the FAA’s first unmanned aircraft exemption for real estate. He uses the drone (or small unmanned aerial systems, as he prefers to call it) to take aerial photos and video of homes for sale. Trudeau won approval to use his “Phantom 2 Vision+” quad-copter.

In Crosby & Associates’ pursuit for the FAA exemption, sales associate Caleb McDow took the initiative using several applications that received exemptions as models. He applied for a Section 333 exemption to the FAA rules, which prohibits businesses from using UAS for commercial purposes. On July 28, 2015 (87 days after he applied), McDow’s application for the exemption to use UAS was approved.

“We’ll use the UAS for 80 to 90 percent of our listings,” said McDow, also a pilot and agricultural land specialist, when speaking to the CCIM Institute about the pursuit.

Caleb McDow of Crosby & Associates, Inc. (Credit: Crosby & Associates, Inc.)
Caleb McDow of Crosby & Associates, Inc. (Credit: Crosby & Associates, Inc.)

“UAS allow us to get the whole picture of a 3,000 to 4,000 acre tract of land in two- or three-minute video and run low shots of the property,” said Crosby. “There are restrictions on how low you can fly a manned aircraft, and airplanes also have to circle and cannot hover. If you want someone to sit in their home and see a large tract of land, the drone gives them a video that’s like sitting on a tractor and traveling through the property.”

McDow and another experienced pilot will fly the drones. Safety is the biggest issue, so they don’t come into conflict with manned planes.

McDow told CCIM they expect to fly the drones weekly for the firm’s property listings. “I’d much rather be flying an airplane,” says the former U.S. Navy pilot. “But flying the UAS is still enjoyable. I focus on getting just the right video shots and figuring out the angles that gets the buyer most excited about the property.”

A full copy of the grant of exemption is available upon request to caleb@crosbydirt.com.