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Drones: Hurdles To Cross With “Eyes In The Sky”

By Christa DiLalo, Associate Market Director, Research Services

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Small drones once belonged to the realm of hobbyists, who enjoyed flying remote-controlled craft that resemble miniature helicopters. But as technology continues improving, corporations and organizations are finding drones useful for commercial applications. Armed with powerful video and/or photographic attributes, these “eyes in the sky” allow organizations to collect data, deliver goods and check on the status of a project.

Even though commercial use of drones is in its infancy, rules and regulations for drone flight need to be honed before the technology can become more accepted, and widely adopted across industries.

One Concept, Many Usages

Also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), drones weigh less than 55 pounds, and typically operate via radio frequency. They are easy to use; controls range from a gamepad/joystick combination to software on smart phones or tablets. Finally, drones are inexpensive. A quality UAS can be procured for less than $5,000.

When it comes to drones, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. Each industry has different needs, requiring different drone functionalities.

  • In the real estate and construction sectors, drones are proving useful when it comes to project status, site surveys and data gathering. Additionally, commercial real estate brokers like to use aerial photographs of properties for marketing purposes.
  • Warehousing and logistics companies rely on drones for safety improvement and efficient inventory management. Large retailers, such as Amazon and Wal-Mart, are also experimenting with drones and “last-mile” technologies to move goods more quickly to consumers.
  • Those responsible for cell phone tower, wind turbine and bridge maintenance are incorporating drones for gathering information. This means workers aren’t placed in dangerous situations and can be deployed to other areas.
  • Agronomists and mining companies find drones useful for gathering data on everything from pesticide distribution and soil and field analysis to mapping and surveying.


Rules, Regulations and Privacy

Though commercial applications with drone usage are many, rules and regulations are struggling to keep up with the advancing technology. Unfortunately, there are currently no universal laws when it comes to the UAS, with nations offering different requirements for their use. For example:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States requires that drone operators have remote pilot airman certification with small UAS ratings. Drone operators, however, no longer require pilot licenses.
  • United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires that drone operators have aerial work licenses. The CAA also has strict rules for flying in and around densely populated areas.
  • Japan’s aviation authority prohibits drone operation over roads or densely populated areas, though doesn’t require licensure of operators.
  • The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is developing regulations for the European Union. However, each nation has different, and specific, rules for when it comes to drone operation.

Concerns are also growing about privacy and personal information, given that drones collect data. It’s important that data-gathering parameters are in place to understand what is okay to collect – and what is not. Until specific regulations can be put into place, it’s up to private industry to regulate drone usage and data collection. Organizations using drones should weigh convenience versus cost, and should also ensure trustworthy operators are flying the machines.

The above is an excerpt from our Fall 2016 edition of the Occupier Edge. To learn more about drone use in commercial real estate, download the Occupier Edge here.


Christa DiLaloChrista DiLalo is an Associate Market Director and works with the Principal Economist to prepare cutting-edge research about commercial real estate on a national level. Christa also conducts primary research, data-driven analysis, and forecasting for the office and industrial sectors of Northern and Central New Jersey—one of the largest suburban markets in the country—as a critical member of the firm’s New York Tri-State Research Services group.

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