Eye in the sky

Drone use is increasingly popular in the auction industry for lots of great reasons. But, if you're using it for business, you need to know the rules.

By James Myers, contributor

Auctioneers with an eye toward utilizing technology to advance their business goals are looking at drones for better promotional material, especially for real estate. However, there are rules and regulations to consider before you start navigating an unmanned aircraft system (Federal Aviation Administration’s [FAA] definition of a drone).

Craig Taylor, international operations manager at Proxibid, has assisted many clients with getting footage for their auctions. He’s quick to promote the use of drones for their ability to capture content for marketing purposes, including social media and video promotions, but also for aerial views for real estate auctions, inventory previews and live auction footage. However, he’s also quick to caution that there can be big fines, civil and criminal, involved if you’re not doing it right.

First and foremost, anyone using a drone that is or could be used for commercial purposes must obtain a remote pilot certificate, which the FAA requires. All the information required to become a drone pilot is on the FAA’s website. Pilots must be at least 16 years old, speak, read, write and understand English and pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam ($150 fee) at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center.

“The FAA will look at you the second you touch (the drone) for your business and they will say you have to have a license for this – their definition around this is pretty rigid,” Taylor said. “You should remember to carry insurance on anything you fly, even if it’s a three-pound drone, it’s a three pound rock coming down from the sky.”

Anyone flying in a careless and reckless manner potentially face $27,500 in civil penalties and up to $250,000 in criminal penalties. For example, you have to know that the FAA will not allow you to fly within a five-mile radius of any airport.

While those fines are scary enough, anyone flying a drone needs to carefully study state and local laws. The FAA’s website offers state-level guidelines, and it’s a lengthy document – around 34 pages of 12 point font, but to avoid breaking laws and setting your business back, it’s imperative to know these rules.

For example, one of North Carolina’s drone laws prohibits flying near a correctional facility. On a local level, the city of Kannapolis has a city ordinance that bans the use of drones in city parks.

“Know your local ordinances and laws,” Taylor advised. “Some cities have cracked down on drones usage and they can do it – it’s the air space within their city and they’re allowed to make rules and regulations.”

Focus on Quality

Just because you have a drone and are using it legally doesn’t mean it’s going to automatically bring in a massive number of buyers to your next auction. The cameras on drones aren’t all created equal. For example, drones under $50 might have a 720p camera, but image quality can suspect and there are few to no added technological perks to cheap drones.

The price range from the most cost efficient to the most costly is drastic. For example, the Dragon X12 is a $30,000-plus unit that can carry a 100-pound payload and offers cinema quality video.

However, Taylor said some of the more advanced technology is standard on drones that cost between $800 and $1,500. His company uses a Phantom 4, of which there are different models offering various perks. The Phantom 4 Pro, which costs around $1,250, has a stabilized camera that offers high-quality 4k video and 20-megapixel imaging. It has four directions of obstacle avoidance, which comes in quite handy if you don’t have line-of-site capabilities and want to avoid running in to anything.

“More advanced systems can stream back to your phone,” Taylor said, which makes navigating the unit much easier than flying by line-of-site only.

Once you’re happy with your choice of drone, Taylor said it’s time to work on capturing quality footage, which includes remembering various photographic basics, like following the rule of thirds, making sure the lighting is right and that the subject matter is evenly balanced. When you’re achieving that, there is much work that can be done in post-production to improve what you show in your marketing materials.

"Drone footage is beautiful,” he said, “but it’s only part of it. Adding the graphics, editing the pieces together – if you’ve got shaky video at one point, cut that out; grab other video and overlay pieces.”

For more information about flying drones, check out knowbeforeyoufly.org.