Wot!? Are Drones allowed over Hondon?

Drone flying in the sunset

March 2020: Aerial photographs and videos are all the rage in Real Estate. These are usually taken with a drone (a remote controlled quad-copter) fitted with a camera. The drone is operated by a Drone Pilot within a few metres of the target property. They can show the property and its gardens or land in new exciting ways. Some are stunning when seen from the skies. Alas, there are also down sides and legal requirements when using drones for commercial purposes.

2021 Edit: As of December 31, 2020, the European UAS regulations now apply. All drone users have to register themselves and their drone before using + take training + a test. This rule affects all drones regardless of their use or size in Spain. You can find detailed information on these new rules here .

Hondon Villas rarely did/do drone videos. We have not offered drone videos on property since 2019. When we asked about the legalities of using our own drone, we were told by law enforcement to stop using drones or risk a fine until we could completely comply with the 2017 Spanish Law on RPAS devices (drones) and adhere to the Controlled Airspace rules for our area.

Also after the initial excitement, we were finding drones cumbersome to do, time consuming to edit, an added expense & a workflow headache on top of doing the usual DSLR video and photograph production for a typical Hondon property. In practise it would mean the sales agent going around to see the client, then a photographer/videographer and then a drone pilot… sometimes three visits if they could not all go together. And then of course if the client called other agents to list their house the visit count / inconvenience multiplied.

More recently though, the latest Spanish drone laws now come with massive fines for improper use. Fines that could ruin a business. Costly official training is needed to. This and the cost per flight commission finally poured water on any future strategy on using drones for real estate for each property we market.

In short we are not offering aerial productions in general right now. We may do in the future for properties that deserve to be shown off from the air but with due consideration to the cost and for the current laws. Other agents are still using them, some systematically and illegally. But maybe they should re-consider. Why? … first the history.

Spot the trend…

Hondón Villas were the first agents locally to employ a drone pilot 3.5 years ago as a test-bed for the future. Miguel was from Aspe and had qualified as a Drone Pilot with his license & training at an Alicante school approved by AESA. He had experience, full liability insurance and the best drone on the market at the time. He took care of the legal side and all clients gave us permission to film over their property.

We video tested a few select properties in the Hondon Valley but outside the nearby Alicante flight path to be safe. The clients loved them, we loved them and it all looked good. However as a new service, each raw video cost about €100 to commission. This price bumped up the cost of marketing a property. No drone videos can guarantee a house sale so we used them on our exclusive listings only to get more value from this price. But it needed some thought and assessment time before we stumped up more investment and pulled the trigger on this new tech’ full time.

Potential or Expensive Risk?

Drone image over real estate

Even before that, we had an eye for the new technology but pro’ quality drones were then very expensive, bulky and the rules surrounding them confusing and strict. We blogged about it at the time. We sought advice from a lawyer who advised it would be unwise to use a drone for business as Spanish law was not fully formed then. So despite their excellent potential, ease of use and the stunning videos we saw, we decided then not to bother with drone video on the grounds of expense, the infancy in the technology, lack of support from manufacturers and the privacy / safety of people or buildings.

The Must-Have Bandwagon

But they became hard to ignore, as new drones improved, got cheaper and more accessible to small businesses and enthusiasts. Many estate agents were using them regardless of rules and some customers were asking for the service. By now they were then being used in top ranking films and TV documentaries. Drone cameras improved and could now shoot in high resolution 4K (broadcast quality) and in so doing, creating new markets and new uses. They were becoming affordable and Real Estate was a good match for this aerial view technology.

Growth meant more legal obligations & regulations

However, back in 2017 as drone sales grew, Spain had to introduce very strict “emergency” legislation on the use of drones as their government was politically fragmented and in the throws of cross-party unrest. It was easier for them to ignore the potential of drones and so make them hard to use with life-changing fines if misused.

This thwarted commercial markets and made Spain an outcast in European Drone use. It also meant many people ignored the rules and added to the danger of the skies. Since then the drone industry and their use in Real Estate is smoother and now established to high degree across the globe. Spain has embraced them too for public services like the police or traffic control.

For the latest news and rules on drone flying in Spain … see the EASA / AESA Page:
> https://www.seguridadaerea.gob.es/es/ambitos/drones

We took training and obtained a RPAS drone licence via the Civil Aviation Authority (UK) in the belief that it would be valid in Europe / Spain but were subsequently told Spain would not recognise a UK drone license and to do so would need to be tested by EU law !!! Hardly a level EU playing field then? But rightly so, we do have drone rules, guidelines and laws on drone use to stop a dangerous free-for-all in the skies. However, a drone pilot in Spain (as of writing, we understand) needs AESA approved training and tests / flight permissions submitted in Spanish.

Certificates to fly drones CAA (UK)
Training Certs Date: 2017

Law and guideline changes again… and again!

Good news cometh: In 2020 the Spanish drone laws became more relaxed and a “Drone Code” created. Commercial users still need a certified course, license, etc and these new laws were still a stricter than other EU members. So this fragmented approach across the Union resulted in a push by the EU to have a common framework of Europe-wide rules that each member country can use as the basis of their drone laws.

Up-to-date: A new EU / EASA set of regulatory framework for drone usage is meant to be introduced soon in 2021 (if Covid doesn’t delay them). If they are, then in theory any EU based Drone Pilot can fly his/her drone legally in any member state with the same (or very similar) qualifications. At the moment (2020) you might be an accredited drone pilot in Denmark but not in France as laws differ. The new EU-wide idea sounds great but we are not there yet! Also it is said that existing pilot may still need to retake a test. If a pilot is not registered yet then they WILL have to get qualified at their own cost. It is also unclear if a UK based pilot will need to retest in the EU after BREXIT. We await this new evolution and rollout.

Strict Rules on Commercial Use

Our research showed us that since 2017 the Spanish Laws are very clear about who can fly a drone for commercial purposes (business / for profit use) and that of a hobby pilot. As we understand it, the latest laws on drones 2020 for commercial use specify drone size /weight limits, official AESA approved training including flight maps, airspace zones, need insurance, registration plates, a medical certificate (i.e you are fit to fly a craft), operational manuals and standards on skyward height restrictions and line-of-sight distances from pilot to drone. They also state skies where drones are not allowed to fly or need Traffic Control permission, like Alicante flight paths, natural parks, airports, prisons, urbanisations, beaches, the privacy of people. The weather has to be taken into account as does any unusual 3rd party flights at the time known as NOTAMs … and indeed most of the this and the Op’s Manual has to be done in Spanish. The courses / tests are usually in Spanish too.

(As of writing 2020) It is required that all commercial pilots train for their license with at least a week of hours for study at an approved school, show competence in practical flight tests and pass a multi-choice questionnaire on their studies. Each drone has to have a fire-proof plate of their pilot reg’ number attached to the drone.

Safety and Privacy

As you can see the rules and laws are quite prohibitive / awkward but necessary for safety and privacy. They may seem to be overkill in such a quiet rural area as the Hondon Valley but we are in a fly zone. We also appreciate people’s right to a safe and private sky and that pilots should be covered by insurance and follow the rules. Alas, we have been warned the law is the law and ignorance is no defence!

But, after due consideration & research, we decided that the fines are not worth it doing this illegally or bypassing some of the fly zone requirements. Nor would it look good for our reputation as an AIPP Real Estate member.

There is no hard evidence as yet that drone footage helps to sell more houses anyway. They help filter the buyer’s choice either way. E.G. Seeing the local area could put people off or conversely attract them. This can lead to selective editing by the estate agent (i.e. miss out the scruffy dog kennels to the west side !!). Drones can used for the sake of it too. As a tool they can be used to show the good, bad and the ugly. Agents want to show the good of course.

So we are always considering the future on using drones or new tech at Hondon Villas and watching the industry closely. For sure though, as we write, very few local pilots /agents have the above accreditations, get permission to fly and disregard for the law. We could not fnd any local agents on the AESA Pilot’s register either as at the time of writing. Most likely they are all flying illegally.

For the latest news and rules on drone flying in Spain … see the EASA / AESA Page:
> https://www.seguridadaerea.gob.es/es/ambitos/drones

*AESA: The Spanish Aviation Safety and Security Agency is the national aviation authority for Spain. The agency is based in Madrid, where it currently occupies offices in the AZCA district, pending the refurbishment of a building on the Paseo de la Castellana.