Drone journalism very much illegal, says FAA: "There is no gray area"

From Poynter.org:

Last Wednesday, The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review published a minute-long, aerial video of a local event [screenshot shown above].

On Thursday, Jesse Tinsley, the photographer who used an unmanned camera ship to record the video from 30 feet off the ground, said it was “not illegal, but currently in a gray area.”

Au contraire, said the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday.

“There is no gray area,” said FAA spokesperson Les Dorr.

Hobbyists are allowed to use small, radio-controlled crafts under specific guidelines, but “if you’re using it for any sort of commercial purposes, including journalism, that’s not allowed,” he added.

The FAA generally contacts transgressors and requests them to cease their activities, rather than penalizing them (unless they’re operating aerial vehicles in a reckless manner, in which case sanctions could be meted out).

“Our main goal is to get them to stop,” Dorr said. “Most of the time people are cooperative.”

(Two drone journalism programs received cease-and-desist letters from the FAA in July.)

Acknowledging the confusion about the operation of unmanned aircraft systems, Dorr said that soon-to-be-released FAA guidelines about small crafts should make it “much clearer…what you can do and what you can’t do.”

He also acknowledged the appeal for journalists in using drones to report some stories.

“It’s an attractive technology for journalists, and people would like to be able to use it,” Dorr said. “That said, the FAA is responsible for the safety of the air space. And as much as we’d like to encourage them, we can’t let them do it as long as there are no rules in place.”

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Comment by Gary McCray on January 10, 2014 at 9:28pm

Interesting, In fact the FAA is defining journalism as a for profit commercial business.

But this is only true if the "journalists" are in fact actually profiting from their drone specific ventures.

And there is a lot of "free" open journalism out there.

I suspect the FAA is making this pre-judgement in order to put forth a mantle of justification for actions which are not in fact clear at all.

When I take a picture with my QuadCopter and place it on DIYDrones web site, that is clearly a journalistic endeavor, but I do not profit and thus do not fit under the FAA's commercial "guidelines".

The FAA is walking a fine line here and it appears they are entirely willing to use their clout and government empowerment to step over that line whenever they have the whim to do so.

"Power Corrupts!"

Comment by Gary Mortimer on January 10, 2014 at 11:22pm

I think its because there is money at the end point, somebody would buy the paper. Its like if you took a picture of a house and somebody bought you a beer its defined as valuable consideration. Of course the flight that close to people might be picked up as reckless endangerment if they choose to. Telling the FAA they are in a grey area is probably not the best thing to do. We shall all know soon how they feel when the Trappy case shakes down.

Comment by Jesse on January 10, 2014 at 11:55pm

Interesting... I live in Spokane, WA. I see Jesse Tinsley's work all the time, but didn't know he had gotten himself a drone! :-)

Rules are rules, we all need to abide by them.

Comment by Graham Harding on January 11, 2014 at 12:15am

I agree with what you are saying Chris, but any story and images/videos can be syndicated world wide if worthy enough. In your second sentence if you add "and there employers" the FAA might believe that the ball is on there side of the fine line.

Comment by F1P on January 11, 2014 at 3:08am

Prohibit all that is unclear ? O_o
And if he just threw the camera up or raised on a pole, it too would call it a federal crime? =)
And who make hystеria...

Comment by Gary Mortimer on January 11, 2014 at 3:27am

He has flown an aircraft for reward at low level over a crowd. The fact that it has taken images is in some ways by the by. It is of course why he was there flying. The chap shot himself in the foot by saying it was a grey area and another journo went off to check. Best not to poke the bear.

This is the point where the cyclical argument of, its just a foamie or how much harm can a quad do starts up. The fact of the matter is all sizes from micro to full size of flying objects that can sustain flight and be controlled in three axis are now aircraft. Some operate under AMA rules, some under COA or military authorization.

So that chap was outside of AMA rules flying over people and outside of FAA jurisdiction as a member of the public he cannot hold a COA.  

Comment by Greg Dronsky on January 11, 2014 at 3:37am

These BBC reporters definitely could use some drones.  

Comment by F1P on January 11, 2014 at 4:59am

Comment by david teles on January 11, 2014 at 5:46am

I am from Portugal and i see a lot of video shot using some type of multicopter, yesterday on the night news i saw footage right next to the hospital, the camera clear the top of a building by 1m at most, and no problems with that. The FAA is creating problems where they don't need to exist

Comment by david teles on January 11, 2014 at 6:38am

Portuguese News station footage 


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