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“Negative, Ghost Rider….” Why You Can’t Fly Drones Over Much of Maui—And What Realtors Can Do

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

So you’ve got a real estate listing on Maui. Now, you just need some fantastic aerial shots to show how close it is to the beach. You’re free as a bird to grab whatever shots you need, right?

Not so fast.

Actually, as a Realtor, you’ll need a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) license to fly any drone for a commercial purpose. But even if you call a licensed drone pilot (such as the Blond Baron), there are places on the island that are off limits.

Most of those places that real estates agents will care about are in the Kahului/Wailuku and Kaanapali areas. They sit in what the FAA calls, “controlled airspace.” Controlled airspace means that air traffic controllers manage the coming and going of any aircraft.

It also means the federal government bans drone flights in the area unless the FAA grants the pilot a waiver.

The Part 107 Waiver application requires your drone pilot to fill out a form that specifies the nature of the mission, the date, expected time in the air and, most importantly, the desired altitude. The FAA reviews the application and submits a response. Technically, it can take up to 90 days for the FAA decision. Usually, it’s within a few days. In some cases, the FAA will automatically authorize waivers for flight within certain parameters.

The biggest consideration will be altitude. If your listing sits within a mile or two of an airport, there’s a good chance the FAA will deny clearance or limit that clearance to a maximum of 50 feet above ground. Fifty feet can offer a nice perspective shot of the home but usually won’t do much to establish geographical context, such as proximity to the beach.

Generally, it’s easier to fly in controlled air space in the Central Valley than it is on the West side. The reason is likely due to the terrain and approach altitude for commercial aircraft. Whatever the reason, pilots can get an automated approval to waiver requests in the Kahului and Wailuku areas. The FAA allows those flights to reach 50 to 400 feet as you move away from the airport. Most of Kahului and all of Wailuku fall within controlled airspace for which the FAA will generally waive restrictions.

On the West Side, pilots are likely to face a stiffer administrative head wind. Experience and the FAA’s Facility Maps show that, in general, approvals take longer and altitude clearances are set lower in the Kaanapali/Lahaina area.

As of the Spring of 2021, the FAA still did not have an automated approval system in place for the West Side. This means that a human must review each application, make changes as necessary and then approve or deny requests. Our air traffic controllers are great, but they have a few other things on their minds than drone flights. So, it can take a few days.

Here’s the bottom line: leave yourself plenty of time for drone shoots within a few miles of the Kahului airport or in the Kaanapali/Lahaina area. Talk to your pilot about your needs. Prepare yourself and your client for the possibility that your images might not be from the 400 foot altitude.

If you follow those simple steps, you’ll be flying high—at least metaphorically.

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