Sunday, May 9, 2021

When will local drone journalism get off the ground?


By Neal Augenstein

WASHINGTON – It’s against the law for news organizations to fly drones in pursuit of a story, but journalists are working to get off the ground.

The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech is studying how reporters could use unmanned aircraft to gather news in a way that would placate the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It’s not legal right now,” says Rose Mooney, executive director with the partnership. “The FAA has not set standards for use commercially, and that would be considered a commercial use.

Mooney says a coalition of news organizations is working with the group to research real-life scenarios where reporters could use small unmanned aircraft.

“Journalists would like to use it for special interest stories, for traffic, for breaking news like emergencies and fires and accidents,” says Mooney. “So, there are number of ways journalists are discussing using UAS for their work.”

UAS test sites were set up by congressional mandate. The Federal Aviation Administration selected Virginia Tech in December, 2013, as one of six national test programs to conduct research to integrate unmanned aircraft into the nation’s airspace.

Unlike in the United States, commercial drones are legal in much of Europe.

Pending FAA approval, the effort may create a path for news organizations to receive a Section 333 exemption, which allows for unmanned systems operations to begin while the larger, regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft is still being worked out.

“We hope to help the FAA see a way that the safety is there and risks are mitigated for journalists,” says Mooney.

She believes implementation would be gradual.

“Stories that are the special interests that are more controlled will happen quickly,” says Mooney. “I think use over highly populated areas will be a little bit more difficult, but we do have plans in our research to explore the best way to do that, and to get journalists in the air as soon as possible.”

“But it will take some time,” says Mooney.