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FAA: Tucson Realtor first in nation to legally fly drone to sell homes

Published: Jan. 7, 2015 at 2:42 AM MST|Updated: Jan. 21, 2015 at 2:44 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Douglas Trudeau is the first Realtor in the United States to be given an exemption from the FAA to fly his quad-copter for commercial purposes, but he didn't have much time Tuesday to celebrate the milestone.

"I was literally shocked today when I got a call and I said 'what do you know that I don't?'," he said. "There it was, the Trudeau petition. Approved."

And those phone calls continued throughout the day for interviews and general questions about the petition process.

Trudeau started using a Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), commonly called a drone, earlier in the year to take pictures and video of houses he was selling for Tierra Antigua Realty. He stopped flying though when the FAA ruled it an illegal commercial use. It would not permanently ground him.

He researched the rules and read through hundreds of PDF pages to put together a petition to the FAA allowing him to fly his UAS. Several movie production companies were awarded exemptions last fall, so Trudeau said he expected to hear about his soon. Nearly six months after submitting his application, Trudeau is now the only Realtor in the country legally approved to fly an UAS to help sell a house.

It's not an immediate green light for flight, according to the exemption. Trudeau has receive some certifications, pass a background check and comply with safety protocols every time he uses the equipment. He said it's all about the operator taking responsibility.

"This is not a toy," said Trudeau. "This is a flying machine, and with that comes a lot of responsibility."

Other real estate agents around the country may not be as responsible. An online search will find various agents and companies using UAS to showcase homes, even though the National Association of Realtors does not recommend it. Trudeau said he hopes illegal users do not slow the progress made by ones who are following the rules.

The FAA can take action against anyone caught flying an UAS without approval, according to a spokesperson. Penalties can be warning notices, letters of correction or civil fines for anyone "who operates a UAS in a way that endangers the safety of the national airspace system".

Even without the threat of action from the FAA, Trudeau said he stopped flying his UAS to protect his clients. His understanding of the law is that homeowners could potentially be fined as well because he's representing them.

"If you think there's going to be a problem, don't do it," said Trudeau. "I would never put my clients at risk."

He's now a pioneer for the exemption process with people across the country wanting to know how he did it, but Trudeau said his focus is still the families who turn to him for help selling their house. He said he wants to provide families with a service that some might associate with million dollar homes.

"If it means I break ground for everybody else, so be it," he said. "I just want to give my clients the best I possibly can."

Trudeau said he'll be working with the National Association of Realtors to help others through the exemption process. The FAA is expected to release guidelines for commercial use for UAS by September 2015.

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