July 14, 2024

Journalists Ask FAA to OK Drones for Newsgathering

Matt Waite of the University of Nebraska's drone journalism program.

Matt Waite of the University of Nebraska’s drone journalism program.  The University has requested FAA authorization to continue research on newsgathering with drones.

By Sheila Gibbons Hiebert

So is it good-bye to the MetLife blimp? Hello MetLife drone? Might unmanned surveillance eliminate paparazzi chasing celebrities into their limos and politicians into theirs?

Journalists are among those clamoring for enhanced drone use. Theirs include the same bevy of reasons that interest so many other areas of commerce, from assessing the consequences of natural disasters or planning a mountaintop rescue of hikers to specific newsgathering situations that are dangerous or inaccessible to reporters and camera crews.

Not only are these unmanned surveillance opportunities plausible, a drone can get more and better images from farther away, and transmit them faster.

Interest is so keen that several universities have set up programs on “drone journalism,” including the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska. Here, according to its website, “students and faculty will build drone platforms, use them in the field and research the ethical, legal and regulatory issues involved in using pilotless aircraft to do journalism.”

A new report from the Federal Aviation Administration confirms the accelerating demand for private drone use and the magnitude of the FAA’s task in moving from permission now granted only through waivers or special authorizations to full integration of unmanned aircraft within the National Aviation Airspace.

Right now, most drones are operated by the military, law enforcement, or robotics hobbyists whose flights are restricted to a height of 400 feet. But that will change soon. Congress mandated the FAA produce regulations for full integration of drones by fall 2015. The challenge: fitting drones into the nation’s busy airspace without compromising safety or reducing capacity; for example, getting a jetliner airborne while also keeping an eye on a drone surveying cropland nearby.

As the heightened journalistic interest suggests, expanded domestic drone use will inevitably rub up against areas of privacy and civil liberties. These issues are outside the FAA’s responsibility.

The FAA is in the process of selecting six test sites for unmanned aircraft. Each site will create its own privacy policies. Maryland has partnered with Pennsylvania and New Jersey to compete among two dozen states contending for a site. The recent decision by the University System of Maryland to construct a research and incubator facility at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center next to St. Mary’s County airport is considered a pivotal piece in winning one of the FAA site designations. Selections are expected to be announced next month, in December 2013.

The policies developed at these six sites are expected to influence yet-to-be-written federal policies that will determine how organizations eventually licensed to deploy drones can use them – including your local Eyewitness News.

Leave A Comment