The Back Story
8/9/16 UPDATE NOTE: The information below was prepared prior to introduction in June of 2016 of a new Part 107 of Federal Aviation Regulations. This new Part 107 specifies a consolidated set of rules for UAS flying, the limitations that will apply, and certification requirements for people that fly them. There is a post on all this elsewhere on this site. 333 exemptions, as referenced below, will likely be phased out in the months ahead, except for very limited purposes. An update of this page to reflect current standards and requirement is in progress. In the meantime, feel free to contact NewDrones with any questions.
A day hardly goes by without yet one more news report on a “drone”. Sometimes good. More often, bad.
NewsDrones, the company, has been created to serve as a source of information and consulting, and to work with suppliers and service providers, to permit the legal and effective use of unmanned aerial systems (drones) for newsgathering, or for any other purpose where imagery (photos/video) from unmanned aircraft systems may be desired by individuals, businesses, or media entities.
The Back Story
Use of drones, or in government language unmanned aerial systems, for video is being done widely now. But most commonly, it is amateurs or hobbyists. Some amazingly talented drone photographers/videographers, or cinematographers in the movie industry, have met special Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards to shoot commercially. But as a general rule, flying for compensation, or other commercial use of drones for any purpose, which includes publication of video or images for any commercial activity, including news presentation, is not permitted under the basic FAA rules at this time. The agency continues to sort out how assure flight safety as unmanned aircraft are integrated into U.S. airspace.
Exemptions from existing rules to allow commercial drone flight can be petitioned for from the FAA (referred to as “333 Exemptions”), and may be granted after a lengthy review process, and with many limitations. A select few organizations, drone photographers, movie studios, or drone users in other fields, have such exemptions, but these authorizations from the FAA carry many limitations or restrictions. There are also drone test programs ongoing at several locations around the country. Some drone operators just ignore the prohibitions on commercial work; a few have been prosecuted for their activities. The U.S. Congress has mandated that the FAA establish a body of law that will permit commercial use of drones, which besides photography, will be used for a host of other work, including, potentially, search/rescue, structure inspections, pipeline patrol, land survey, agricultural applications, environmental and water resource surveys, plant and animal studies, and much more.
So, as of now in the U.S., a news organization can use a drone for image-gathering only if it has successfully obtained an exemption from present FAA rules (or uses a contract drone photographer with an exemption). But new rules have indeed been proposed for commercial drone use, and how those play out remains to be seen. Besides the FAA evaluating rules on drone operations, with its primary concern being safety of operations of everything that flies, and safety of people on the ground below, there will be other matters yet to be worked out. The NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) been tasked by the President with sorting out privacy issues as they relate to drone imaging and data gathering, with concentration on drone impact on privacy, drone operator transparency, an drone operator accountability. And since drone flight, and the images/data from drones, require both radio and wi-fi frequency bandwidth, there will be complex spectrum availability/interference issues that will likely need attentions drones proliferate. And, even after the FAA issues regulations dictating who, how and when and where a drone can be operated, there will likely be disputes hinging on the fundamental question: “Just whose airspace is this block of air over and around my house, anyway?”
The best guess right now is that commercial drone use WILL be routinely permitted, by an FAA LICENSED operator, with SUBSTANTIAL LIMITATIONS on where, how, and when a drone may be flown, and also limitations on drone weight and performance. Such details, as now proposed by the FAA (found here), and NewsDrones’ comments on them (found here) are linked. A summary of the proposed rules is in the Resources area of this site. Additionally, other resource information is here. When might commercial opportunities open up more broadly? Maybe a year from now. Maybe.
NewsDrones will try to keep tuned in to what’s going on, and inform and guide those who want to use airborne cameras commercially, providing the information, tools and resources they need to do it, effectively and legally. There is not a clear path, right now. Determining the equipment, operating such equipment safely, and getting what you want out of it will take commitment, expertise, and some honest budgeting. We’d like to be able to assist your news operation into the world of drone photography, with the equipment, people, training, operations guidance, insurance, an legal contacts you’d want for your professional organization.
Stay tuned as a whole new world of drone imaging for news, and other purposes, gathers steam. Call us if you want to talk now. No charge.
Update: August 9, 2016