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Realtors Use Drone For Aerial Shots Of D.C. Neighborhood, Violating FAA Rule

Brookland, in Northeast D.C., as seen from a drone.
Klar and Abbott Real Estate Group
Brookland, in Northeast D.C., as seen from a drone.

Update, May 12: The blog post and footage from the drone have been deleted.

If you want to sell real estate in D.C., good photography helps. How about dramatic aerial shots of the neighborhood you're marketing?

That was the thinking of two local realtors, who on Monday posted drone footage of the Northeast neighborhood of Brookland. "We we were brainstorming ways to make our Brookland videos even more reflective of the awesomeness that is Brookland and came up with... Drones!", said Shemaya Klar and Jake Abbott of the Abbott Klar Real Estate Group in the posting.

Much as the footage provided beautiful views of the neighborhood, there's one problem: It was illegal. Since 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration has prohibited the use of drones in a 10-nautical mile area around Reagan National Airport, a policy they have stressed in personal phone calls to locals who have taken drones to the city's skies.

The existing policy is the reason that Amazon's promise of delivery-by-drone may never come to pass in D.C., and has provoked ongoing uncertainty for local drone hobbyists. That's not to say that some don't just ignore the law, though: Last week, dramatic drone footage of D.C. made the rounds, though public access to the video was quickly limited by its creators.

In an email, Klar said that the duo would wait for clarity from the FAA before any more flights. (He did not receive a call from the FAA, he said.) He did criticize the D.C.-only restrictions, though.

"From what we have learned over the last day or so it seems that D.C. is singled out for more stringent rules by the FAA — and why?  This is one more example where the rights of the citizens of the District of Columbia are unequal to the rest of the country," he said. "These random FAA rules wouldn't fly — pun intended — in the rest of the country."

The rules may eventually change, though it's unclear if they will be loosened in D.C.

Congress has ordered the FAA to draw up rules regulating the use of drones for civilian purposes, and yesterday FAA Administrator Michael Huerta spoke to NPR about some of challenges in regulating the what, where and when of commercial drones. In April, the FAA picked six sites across the country for commercial drone tests. (Virginia Tech is one of them.)

The media is also jumping into the fray. Yesterday more than a dozen outlets said that a ban on drone use violates the First Amendment. Their opinion came in relation to a case involving a $10,000 fine levied by the FAA on a man who in October 2011 used a drone for commercial purposes near the University of Virginia.

Despite the pressures on the FAA, D.C. may never be fully open to drones. The city's airspace is strictly controlled, and federal officials could point to the two national parks that yesterday banned the use of drones as an example of how the unmanned aerial vehicles should be limited in certain areas.

If D.C. remains off-limits, Klar and Abbott could consider a lawsuit: On Tuesday, powerhouse law firm Holland & Knight opened a drone practice.

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