AVIATION safety chiefs have warned estate agents they risk hefty fines by using drones to get stunning images of luxury properties for sale.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says it is aware of cases where estate agents have “potentially” broken the law by operating drones without a licence.
The remotely-operated aircraft are increasingly being used to provide beautiful aerial images of high-end properties.
But the CAA has threatened says it will prosecute companies that use drones without a licence for commercial purposes, potentially landing them with a fine of up to £5,000.
Drones are attractive to estate agents because hiring a helicopter to get aerial shots costs in the region of £4,000. Drones capable of doing the job can be bought outright for as little as £350.
Regulations set out in the UK’s Air Navigation Order state that, for safety reasons, a licence is needed to operate a drone to make money.
Getting the licence involves paying thousands of pounds in fees and taking a training course. Some photographers used by estate agents are either unaware of the rules or dodging them.
A CAA spokesman confirmed: “Any business or person operating an unmanned aircraft for commercial use, requires a Permission from the CAA.
“To obtain a Permission, they need to submit an operations manual demonstrating how they intend to use the unmanned aircraft, the person operating the device needs to be qualified, having successfully passed an approved training course and they need to have liability insurance in place.
“In addition, any business, which wants to fly within 50m of any property, will need an additional permission from the CAA, again providing the necessary assurances.”
The spokesman added: “We are aware of a number of incidents where estate agents have potentially used unmanned aircraft without permission.
“We will be seeking to raise awareness of the rules within the sector.”
He continued: “The regulations relating to the use of unmanned aircraft are in place to protect the safety of the public.
“Where an operator breaches these regulations and, where we have sufficient evidence we will take legal action.”
Craig Jump, Director of Loch Lomond-based Sky View Video Scotland is licensed and has us drones to get pictures for estate agents.
He said: “The estate agent end of the market is saturated and one that is full of unlicensed operators.
“It is frustrating for companies like ours who have invested a lot of time and money getting our license and approvals, and having the proper insurances.”
Mr Jump continued: “The licence involves attending a course and passing a test on air law and navigation.
“You then have to write an operations manual on how you will safely carry out your operations, then site a flight test against them before apply to the CAA for a commercial license. It is not a low cost process.”
He added: “Unmanned aerial vehicles are not toys, they can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
“If you have one battery and it fails it will fall out the sky. If you have four propellers and they fail it will fall out the sky.
“Most commercial guys fly with six or eight propellers and two batteries. It’s a danger if people don’t know the limitations of the aircraft they are using.”
Toby Milbank, of estate agents Strutt & Parker, confirmed they only use properly licensed drone operators.
He said: “The drone allowed us to capture a more birds-eye view that gives people a real feel of the vastness and beauty of the of the surrounding countryside, not just the property.
“We do this now with a lot of grander country houses that come with acreage and the clients love it.”
Another agency which has used drones to take photographs of impressive properties on the market is Glasgow-based Robb Residential.
Director Iain Robb said: “Previous images of properties in context could appear dimensionless, devoid from location. With the help of drone photography, images can be transformed into panoramic views within the landscape.”
By Jenny Kane