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Glen Park couple embracing new aerial vehicle technology amid legal questions

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GLEN PARK — One couple is taking to the sky for a new hobby that could soon prove profitable.

Amanda N. and Jason R. Desjardins purchased their first unmanned aerial vehicle about three months ago. With Mr. Desjardins behind the controls and his wife controlling the attached camera via her tablet computer, the couple quickly got the hang of it and about three weeks ago upgraded to a higher-end model.

With the new model, equipped with a 14-megapixel camera capable of filming high-definition videos, Mr. and Mrs. Desjardins said they already have heard from local businesses inquiring about using the drones and have adopted the moniker Horizon Aerial Media Services for their budding business.

They carry liability insurance and are working to establish a limited liability corporation.

Area real estate agencies have been champing at the bit to bring high-altitude shots and virtual tours to real estate listings, they said.

“They’ve been real excited,” Mr. Desjardins said. “The response has been good.”

Real estate agencies told him the device would be especially effective in capturing images of waterfront properties, areas with large amounts of land or other high-value properties.

The drone, which Mr. Desjardins typically flies at about 100 to 125 feet above ground, is able to capture many acres of land in a single shot, something that would make train tracks, seasonal roads and other features that might otherwise be obscured visible.

“You can get a real feeling for the neighborhood,” he said.

The couple flew the device at the property of friends and Mr. Desjardins’s father, but are aware that federal law may hold them back from using the drone commercially.

Les Dorr Jr., a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said May 15 that for all commercial flights in U.S. airspace, businesses must have certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and the FAA’s authorization.

In July, the FAA approved one company — ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc. — to fly the drones for commercial purposes. The company uses Insitu Inc.’s “ScanEagle” and AeroVironment Inc.’s “Puma” exclusively in the Arctic for marine mammal and ice surveys.

The Desjardinses said they have been following protocol from the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which stipulates aircraft be flown at least 100 feet downwind from spectators or vehicles, maintain visual contact with the device and not fly above 400 feet or 3 miles within an airport without notifying the airport operator. The safety code, however, is intended exclusively for “sport, recreation, education and/or competition,” as opposed to the proposed commercial flights.

Even with real estate agencies clamoring to take advantage of the high-angle shots, the National Association of Realtors said in the March issue of Realtor magazine that the FAA is set to issue rules on the commercial use of drones in 2015, but until that ruling is complete, association members “should not use drones for real estate marketing purposes or hire companies to do so.”

At least one listing from Exit More Real Estate, 18874 Route 11, Watertown, uses the drone technology, according to both its website and Horizon Aerial Media Services’ Facebook page.

Despite FAA laws, many similar businesses have been established across the country, though Horizon Aerial Media Services is the only one like it in the area, the Desjardinses said.

Politico magazine reported in March that a federal judge stopped a $10,000 fine from the FAA against a Swiss done operator named Raphael Pirker, who was accused of operating a drone recklessly while filming for the University of Virginia’s medical school. The Desjardinses had been following that case and stressed that FAA legislation about drone flight, which has been in the works since 2007, has not yet been completed.

Others, such as Little Rock, Ark., TV station KATV, have used the drones for reporting, The Wall Street Journal reported. The station received notification from the FAA, but it did not tell the station to stop using the drones, the newspaper reported.

The Desjardinses said they would be open to assisting law enforcement and local fire departments. One such company is Detroit, Mich.-based Detroit Drone, an aerial photography and video business, which filmed video to assist city firefighters on multiple occasions, giving the department all angles of a burning building, as the Desjardinses have proposed.

“As a new business guy, I can’t be any happier,” Mr. Desjardins said. “There’s endless uses for this technology.”

The couple said that even if they are able to make some money from operating the drone, it will always remain a hobby.

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