Every industry has its pioneers. The automotive industry had Henry Ford. Personal computers – and digital music and smartphones – had Steve Jobs. The real estate drone photography industry has Douglas Trudeau.

Trudeau, an associate broker with Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, Arizona, was the first Realtor to apply for an receive a Section 333 waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to use an unmanned aerial system – or drone, as it is commonly called – to capture photography of real estate for use in property listings.

Despite the popularity of UAS for recreational use among photo/video and aviation hobbyists, the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 outlaws using the single- or multi-rotor aircraft for commercial purposes, such as real estate marketing, unless granted an exemption by the FAA.

Though the law was passed a few years back, it was not till June 2014 that the FAA released an interpretation of the law that specifically addressed the real estate implications. After which, Trudeau got in touch with an FAA attorney to explore the steps to getting legal.

A Realtor for 15 years, Trudeau relies heavily on his business background when it comes to his real estate business. “When I was getting my MBA, I put a big emphasis on marketing, which is why I market the way I do,” he says. When digital photography came to the forefront, he invested time and money into learning the trade so that he could shoot properties himself without contracting an outside photographer whose photos he just didn’t feel comfortable using; he’s even had fellow agents hire him to take photos for their listings. Photos, though, can only show so much.

“I just didn’t like the virtual tour, just a slideshow of what you see on the Multiple Listing Service,” Trudeau says. So he turned his attention to video.

“A home using video gets 400-percent more attention than a home without video,” he adds. Trudeau says he started flying small, remote control helicopters about seven years ago and developed that from a hobby into an element of his business.

Aerial photos and videos allow agents to showcase certain attributes of a property that are difficult to showcase in traditional imagery, such as the expanse of a home’s mountain views and the distance from neighboring homes.

“From an aerial perspective, you get a better perspective of a home,” he says. After getting the scope of the exterior, Trudeau says it’s easier to transition to the interior. “Now let’s go inside. Let’s look at this kitchen. People see the home as a living space,” he says.

Trudeau went through the substantial exemption application process last July without the help of an attorney – “It’s like making pie with just the ingredients,” he says – and in January received notification that he’d been approved for his Section 333 waiver, just the 13th exemption overall. “I got Lucky No. 13,” he says.

Trudeau’s exemption was contingent upon making a few changes to his aircraft and finding a pilot, among other conditions. He has used his experience to help further the cause in the industry. He offers a how-to guide on his website for other agents interested in applying for the exemption, and he’s become a sought-after speaker on the issue.

Since Trudeau received his exemption, the FAA has issued waivers to more than 200 companies with real estate-related purposes, according to the National Association of Realtors.

“A lot of people have told me I’ve pioneered the way for Realtors,” says Trudeau, who recently spoke on a panel on drones at the NAR’s Legislative and Trade Expo to share his experience and offer advice to other Realtors seeking a waiver.

“The FAA, in all reality, has made it easier today for you than it was for me a year ago,” he told the audience at the NAR panel.

The Section 333 waiver is seen as a stopgap until the FAA releases its much-anticipated rules governing the commercial use of UAS. The FAA released its proposed rules in February and is hoping to finalize rules by mid-2016, according to FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker.

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