Washington, DC—Suddenly, the FAA has allowed CNN and a Las Vegas agency ArrowData to begin using and testing drones for electronic newsgathering over populated areas under a section 333-waiver application provision.
Until now the FAA has banned so-called, commercial use of drones while completely ignoring important First Amendment issues.
As of now many media companies have opted to refuse applying for section-333 waivers because the lack of FAA regulation in effect already allows drone newsgathering.
The FAA just issued a curious memo saying the media can’t use the drones, but they can accept and publish drone video from third party hobbyists. That begs the question, are the rights of hobbyists somehow greater than news publishers?
Soon the FAA and media content creators may be clashing in a courtroom.
The real issue and mission of the FAA is about safety in our skies. However, to date the nearly two million multi-rotor camera drones have not been involved in a single death, significant injury or property damage anywhere. The 7000 registered helicopters on the other hand have suffered numerous deaths along with epic destruction of property.
The drones used by hobbyists have been proven to be safe. There really is no evidence whatsoever that use of drones by the media would be any different.
There are two ways for courts to become involved to settle the potential conflict. One is for the FAA to cite someone because they used a drone for newsgathering. The other way would be if a media company or individual simply sued the FAA seeking a Declaratory Judgment that would actually enjoin the FAA from obstructing newsgathering efforts.
With respect to electronic newsgathering he FAA has to date been placing itself above our Constitution’s First Amendment. A judge may yet slap the FAA. The FAA cannot simply trump the Constitution of the United States.
Here is the latest and somewhat ambiguous FAA memo on the drone newsgathering subject: