Wednesday, June 22, 2016

FAA issues regulations for drone aircraft, which take effect in 60 days; give room for journalism

New York Times photo by Michael Ciaglo
"In 60 days, drone journalism will be legally possible in any newsroom in the United States. That’s not to say it will be easy, but it will be legally possible in ways that it has never been before," now that the Federal Aviation Administration has issued regulations on the topic, Matt Waite writes for the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska.

Drone operators will need a certificate, which requires passing a test “that includes knowledge of airspace, airspace operating requirements, and the use of aeronautical charts,” the FAA's summary of the regulations says. "Generally, the FAA’s tests are 40 questions, multiple choice and you have to get a 70 percent to pass," Waite reports. "Anyone committed to learning the material can pass the test. And you can take it again," but that might be costly. Waite says he couldn't find a cost for the test, but the one for manned aircraft costs $150.

The regulations require the drone to be in the operator's line of sight at all times and ban flying at night, over people or more than 400 feet above the ground, 100 feet lower than any manned aircraft is supposed to be unless taking off or landing. Reckless or careless operation is also prohibited. The lack of specifics on that point "gives the FAA wide latitude to go after pilots they feel are operating poorly," Waite writes, so if you want to use a drone to cover a public event, "You’re going to have to rope off a space set back from the main group, keep people out of it, and do not leave that spot. And make sure you document what you’ve done to keep you drone from flying over people and keep them safe for when the FAA inspector comes calling." The rules also ban flying in restricted airspaces, generally five miles from an air traffic control tower, which are marked with solid color lines on this map.

Waite concludes, "The day we’ve been waiting for is here. The news is reasonably good. There are still challenges, and we haven’t even talked about state and local laws that have been piling up while the FAA lumbered toward today. But the future of drones in journalism is much brighter today than it has ever been."

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