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.”