Costly FAA drone regulations exclude media usage

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After nearly four years of delay, the FAA is poised to release regulations for the commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS/drone). A document, that could be a draft of the proposed regulations, was spotted on a federal website on Friday by a drone user and downloaded before being removed from the website, according to the Wall Street Journalhost. Forbes reports, “The document is dated February 2015 and is captioned ‘Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regulatory Evaluation, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ authored by George Thurston of the Office of Aviation Policy and Plans, Economic Analysis Division. But, it’s possible this is a leaked early draft that has since been revised or is otherwise incomplete or inaccurate.”

The document states, “If the proposed rule were adopted, operators would be permitted to participate in certain non-recreational activities from which they are currently prohibited. The proposed requirements are intended to enable the opportunity for the private sector to conduct research and development, develop commercial small UAS businesses, and facilitate legal and safe operations.” Adding, “The estimated out-of-pocket cost for a small UAS operator to be FAA-certified is less than $300.” However, the document also shows that estimated cost of regulatory compliance to be approximately $6,800 per year.

The proposed regulations would require UAS operators to obtain an FAA license, which would include a written test and the UAS to be flown would need to be inspected and registered with the FAA. The regulations also appear to apply many of the current regulations that exist for recreational use to commercial use of a UAS:
• The aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;
• The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and
• When flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation.”

Additionally, any use of a UAS is supposed to be “flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.” This regulation alone makes use of a UAS impossible for many legitimate media purposes. In fact, the document states, “aerial photography activities such as those flown for pipeline inspections, high voltage power line inspections, commercial photographers covering action events, and wildlife observation of birds and other animals would not be practical by the proposed rule due to the proposed line-of-sight requirements.” And, “The four potential small UAS markets are: Aerial photography, Precision agriculture, Search and rescue/law enforcement, and Bridge inspection.”

Notice what area is not present: media/journalism. Is it possible that the FAA is intentionally preventing media from being covered under the regulations? Is it possible that the FAA would rather journalists be in harms way, than to allow safe news coverage of potentially dangerous events? Media covering the Ferguson riots, in which many members of the media were arrested, shot with tear gas and bean bags, and/or threatened with arrest or death for daring to report on the police abuses, would have benefited greatly from the use of UASs. However, the no-fly zone that was created around Ferguson would likely have been construed as to prevent any media use of a UAS to cover the riots.

Regardless of the implications of these regulations on the media; in the end, as with all regulations, small business will be harmed by the implementation of these new regulations, as they are less likely to be able to justify cost of regulatory compliance.