The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) sided with the nearly two dozen members of the so-called News Media Coalition in opposing a number of the restrictions that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) might keep on news gathering drones.
In comments posted Friday, the NAA argued that the FAA should not prohibit drones from flying over people at news events as proposed by the agency in its draft rules for commercial drone use in U.S. airspace.
“At [protests, riots, and other newsworthy events], it would be effectively impossible to cover the news without flying over individuals,” wrote the NAA. “The FAA’s proposed rules should not prohibit news organizations from capturing such images using drones, provided that adequate precautionary measures are taken to ensure that drones are operated safely at all times.”
Like the News Coalition, the NAA also asks the FAA not to limit drone flights to daylight hours or require that the camera drone always be within the line-of-sight of the operator.
“…the FAA’s proposal would foreclose the use of drones to cover events in which a photographer cannot gain immediate physical access, such as wildfires, natural disasters, and other instances in which close proximity is not possible,” wrote the NAA. “In certain breaking news situations, in which police have blocked off large areas, the rule would make it difficult for news organizations to use drones to provide visual coverage of areas off limits to reporters and photographers.”
Micro-drones to the rescue?
The NAA supports the proposed FAA rule for micro-drones – remotely piloted, camera-equipped aerial vehicles weighing less than 4.4 pounds. For micro-drones, the FAA might permit operations over people not involved in the operation of the unmanned vehicle, provided it is made of breakable plastic, paper, wood, or foam.
“The ability to fly above individuals not directly involved in the operation would allow news organizations to obtain aerial coverage of heavily populated events such rallies, riots, and protests. NAA further believes that the 4.4-pound limit for micro UAS is a reasonable compromise that would accommodate current news gathering needs,” the association said in its comments.
Where the FAA goes from here
In February, the FAA put out a notice of proposed rulemaking for the use of commercial drones. The comment period closed on April 24.
The FAA has sixteen months from the close of the comment period to publish its rules. If it holds to that schedule, the FAA will miss the September 2015 set by Congress in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
Commercial drone use in the U.S. today requires what is termed a “Section 333 exemption.” The FAA can grant case-by-case authorization for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations. As of April 29, the FAA has granted 247 exemptions and has sped up the process for film/television production and aerial data collection, though the news drone restrictions: rules against flying over people, flying beyond the operator’s line of sight and operating outside of daylight hours has effectively kept news departments from deploying unmanned flying news cameras.