ENG Industry Monitors FAA Drone Tests

ENG Industry Monitors FAA Drone Tests
Michael Grotticelli, Broadcast Engineering Extra
NEW YORK — Several local and network news organizations have been experimenting with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, to cover local news events, but have been met with stiff resistance from local authorities citing safety and victim privacy issues. Working for WFSB-TV in Hartford, Conn., a freelancer was suspended by the station after police chided his capturing of overhead footage of a car accident with a DJI Phantom 2 Vision drone, flying about 150 feet above the ground. And he was flying the lightweight rig on his day off.

What’s clear is that new rules need to be written to allow the use of UAVs, in order to protect everyone’s safety while giving viewers unique perspectives on news events.

The Federal Aviation Administration is now doing some experimenting of its own, choosing North Dakota as the first of six test sites it will oversee to test drones as part of new research mandated by Congress. The federal agency selected six mandated test sites on Dec. 30, 2013. The FAA is working with the test sites to guide their research programs to help the FAA safely integrate drones into the national airspace over the next several years. The program is more than two-and-a -half months ahead of the deadline specified for the program by Congress.

The FAA has granted the North Dakota Department of Commerce a Certificate of Authorization to start using a small drone at its Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site. Flight operations are expected to begin the week of May 5th.

“North Dakota has really taken the lead in supporting the growing unmanned aircraft industry,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, in a statement. “We look forward to the contributions they and the other test sites will make toward our efforts to ensure the safe and efficient integration of [drones] into our nation’s skies.”

The FAA said the main goal of the first site’s initial operations is to show that drones can check soil quality and the status of crops in support of North Dakota State University/Extension Service precision agriculture research studies. Precision agriculture is one of many industries that represent areas for significant economic opportunity and UAV-industry expansion.

While supporting the precision agriculture project, the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site also will collect safety-related operational data needed for UAV airspace integration. The information will help the FAA analyze current processes for establishing small drone airworthiness and system maturity. Maintenance data collected during site operations will support a prototype database for drone maintenance and repair.

“These data will lay the groundwork for reducing risks and ensuring continued safe operations of [drones],“ said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We believe the test site programs will be extremely valuable to integrating unmanned aircraft and fostering America’s leadership in advancing this technology.”

The North Dakota COA covers two separate geographical locations. Initial flights will be conducted over North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research Extension Center located in Carrington, N.D. The second set of missions, scheduled for summer 2014, will fly over Sullys Hill National Game Preserve near Devils Lake, N.D.

ENG professionals are anxiously awaiting results of the tests in the hopes of gaining clearance soon to use drones for daily news coverage over hard-to-reach breaking news events. At the recent NAB Show, several companies exhibited GPS-enabled UAVs with miniature HD cameras for attendees to review.