FAA on drone recordings by journalists: ‘There is no gray area’

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

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.”

Related training: Drones for Reporting and Newsgathering: The Promise and the Peril | Covering Drones in U.S. Airspace and in Your Community

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  • http://www.marcusuav.com/ Marcus UAV

    How is journalism not a hobby?

  • TexomaResident

    Les Dorr, Show me the LAW, not the policy or guidelines please. I believe this document might be the first printed information on the subject of R/C aircraft, which if one reads the PURPOSE closely, it pretty much tells all. The documents presented later are not much better when it comes to being enforceable since you the FAA have not yet gone through all the proper procedures it takes to make such LAW. By the way – Have you collected that 10K fine you file on a fellow R/C Hobbyist yet? Curious, if what his attorney has mentioned regarding proper steps in making a recommended procedure into law is true or not: http://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/91-57.pdf

  • Brendan Keefe

    Thanks, and good luck!

  • Brendan Schulman

    The motion to dismiss is fully briefed and we are awaiting a decision.

  • Brendan Keefe

    Brendan, how is the case going? We’ve all been following it very closely.

  • http://sachs.net/ Peter Sachs

    ^^ Agreed, and they are wandering onto First Amendment turf when they attempt to say one cannot use them to take a photo from a public place.

  • Jim O

    What is even more disturbing here is that they are trying to regulate WHAT THEY ARE USED FOR, not just the flight situation.

  • franciscoprk

    If you allow hobbyists to fly them, you must allow journalists.

  • http://sachs.net/ Peter Sachs

    FAA spokesperson Les Dorr is 100% wrong.
    ​Radio-controlled model aircraft are completely unregulated (at this writing). The FAA can send all the “cease and desist” letters it wants, but it has no legal authority whatsoever to force anyone to cease or desist. In fact at this writing, operators of those types of craft have an unfettered right to use them for pleasure or profit.​

    ​At this writing there exists not a single FAA regulation concerning the use of radio-controlled model aircraft, (“drones”). I challenge
    ​Mr. Dorr (
    ​or anyone else from the FAA
    ​)​ to cite a single regulation that does.

    ​- ​Advisory Circular 91-57 is merely a list of
    ​common sense ​”suggestions,” and
    ​is not legally enforceable.

    ​- ​The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 is merely a set of
    ​”​directives
    ​”​ to the FAA to develop regulations concerning unmanned aircraft. By definition, that means none currently exist. Moreover,
    ​language found within ​”directives
    ​” ​
    ​to ​an agency
    ​ ​are not
    ​​
    ​themselves regulations, and are not legally enforceable.

    ​- ​The FAA 2007 ”
    ​Clarification”
    ​merely ​clarifies the FAA’s current
    ​”​policy
    ​”​ concerning operations of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System.
    ​Agency “policies
    ​”​ are not
    ​regulations, and are not legally enforceable.


    Attorney Brendan Schulman, (who has also commented here), has argued quite correctly and eloquently on behalf of his client in the first test case regarding commercial drone use— Administrator v. Raphael Pirker, NTSB Docket CP-217.
    ​ ​It will be interesting to see the outcome of that case given the points I’ve included above and the far more expansive arguments Attorney Schulman set forth in his motions and memoranda of law.

  • Brendan Schulman

    On behalf of a client we are challenging the enforceability of the FAA’s purported commercial drone ban in a pending litigation.

  • Clay Jones

    While the idea of camera drones flitting around, peeping in people’s windows turns my stomach, it seems this spokesperson at the FAA is making decisions outside of his purview. I think this is clearly an issue for the courts, not some bozo with a Communications degree (like me).

  • TVNewserEr

    The government “shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”

    Not illegal. Someone take the FAA to court and win. You can’t say it’s OK for hobbyists to use a drone but not journalists. Sorry kids.

  • DanielMyers