FAA takes on city Realtors using drones


By Jennifer Gould Keil and Kate Sheehy

High-end Realtors who use drones to take aerial property photos are being slapped with subpoenas by the FAA, which is demanding to know exactly how the technology is being used, The Post has learned.

The Federal Aviation Administration dragged the courts into its fight against Realtors a week after stating the remote-controlled crafts cannot be used for commercial purposes.

“It has completely blown up. We’re getting [subpoenas] all over the city and the Hamptons, and they’re just going to general counsel,’’ a source with Halstead Property told The Post on Monday. “It was a total shock.”

In addition to Halstead, city real-estate giants such as Time Equities and Alchemy Property use drones. The stunning views that can be taken of ritzy, towering projects are invaluable as a selling tool, they note.

“You can get [drones] online for 1,500 bucks,’’ a Corcoran broker said. “It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a photographer and a plane for an aerial shot. As long as [the drones] aren’t used for spying, what’s the problem?’’

The FAA argues brokers can’t use the drones because they haven’t been authorized for commercial use.

“We have a mandate to protect the American people in the air and on the ground, and the public expects us to carry out that mission,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a memo issued last week.

An FAA source added that the agents could be fined if they don’t stop using the drones.

But the Realtors gripe that there’s technically no commercial use since they’re not charging their clients for the photos.

Some real-estate agents said it’s safer to steer clear of the gizmos.

“It is a little frightening how invasive they can be,’’ said Andrew Saunders of Saunders & Associates in the Hamptons.

Leonard Steinberg, president of Urban Compass, said he uses a balloon rigged with a camera instead.

“The city is so dense that the drones are extremely dangerous,” Steinberg said. “I think they are a huge liability. It’s like flying debris. It’s nuts. It scares me.”

SkyPan, a firm that has been hired by city Realtors to take drone photos of projects, said the FAA subpoenaed its records last year involving a Midtown development.

“It appears the FAA is on a fact-finding mission,’’ said SkyPan owner Mark Segal.

“It concerns me that the FAA is spending time and energy with subpoenas instead of proactively communicating with the . . . builders,” he said in an e-mail.


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