To Drone or not to Drone

Credit:  Sergei Grits/AP Photos
Credit: Sergei Grits/AP Photos

To capture great aerial shots during the skiing and snowboarding events at the Winter Olympics in Sochi NBC used drones.  To do so they filed flight plans with Russia’s civil aviation authority and got permission to use the drones from local law enforcement.

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles for sports photography is far from a passing gimmick.   You should expect more and more athletic events to be filmed by drones since they are quieter and cheaper than a manned helicopter and allow the filmmaker to get much closer to his subject.   A sophisticated drone weighs about 3 pounds and can cost up to $40,000.

Although drones are used through out Europe, usage in the USA is still subject to controversy.  When the Washington Nationals used a drone to take photos during spring training, but were asked to stop since they “did not have FAA approval”.

In the past commercial news organizations  have been prohibited from using drones to capture images.  A 2007 FAA policy stressed that UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) enthusiasts could not use drones for commercial purposes.  A commercial flight requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval from FAA. The FAA  frowned on media outlets using drone images, but a judge ruled early this month that the FAA could not regulate drone flights, a decision the FAA quickly appealed.

On March 12, 2014 Brian Wilson used his drone at the scene of the fatal blast  following a deadly gas explosion on Park Avenue at East 116th Street in Harlem to capture the scene shown below.

Photo by Brian Wilson
Photo by Brian Wilson

Police originally allowed Brian Wilson to launch his camera drone up 150 to 200 feet, but after he captured about 30 minutes of video the police said they’d prefer he didn’t fly in the area anymore.

Four Blade DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter used to photograph the New York explosion  Credit:  Mike Segar/ Reuters
Four Blade DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter used to photograph the New York explosion Credit: Mike Segar/ Reuters

Since the FAA has never undertaken the required public notice necessary to make an official regulation.  The FAA could potentially try to establish an emergency rule, but it’s unclear how long that will take or whether they’ll do it.  What this means, at least for now, is that you can go fly your drone.

Catch landing a hexacopter drone.  Credit:  Richard Newstead/Flickr/Getty Images
Catch landing a hexacopter drone. Credit: Richard Newstead/Flickr/Getty Images
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