The FAA has granted a waiver to CNN allowing the media company to fly drones over crowds, covering public assemblies to a height of 150 feet (45 meters).
The first of its kind to allow untethered flight to this degree, this waiver is the product of two years of research by CNN and its partner Vantage Robotics who established their case for safety with the FAA.
The “Reasonableness Approach” developed by CNN and Vantage Robotics established conditions whereby a number of factors were taken into account before the FAA granted the waiver. These factors include the operators safe history of use, safety features of the craft and exhaustive test data, as CNN explains in their press release.
“We are pleased that Vantage was able to work with CNN to present and establish the safety case for the Snap to the FAA”,
said Tobin Fisher, CEO of Vantage Robotics.
The waiver to Part 107 (Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations) applies to the use of the Vantage Snap UAS, a frangible, 1.37-pound aircraft designed specifically with crowd safety in mind.
Here is sample footage in 4K shot with the Vantage Snap:
While the Vantage Snap is limited in its use at the moment, this decision could spell the beginning of a new regulatory trend within the industry.
Former US presidential advisor and attorney Lisa Ellman of Hogan Lovells, the firm that represented CNN in the waiver application process, has been working hard in the last few years to develop legislation allowing commercial use of drones.
She believes this new legislation could have broader implications within the industry:
“CNN’s new waiver represents a very important development for the commercial drone industry at large. The FAA’s willingness to approve reasonable waiver requests is a strong step in the right direction as we seek to bring the benefits of commercial drones to the American people.”,
Ellman is a strong advocate of commercial drone use in the U.S. and feels U.S. legislation still has a way to go before the industry can catch up with countries like Japan, which has allowed the commercial use of drones for the past 20 years already.
In a broader sense, this regulatory step has the potential to bring the plans of companies such as Amazon, eBay and even regular delivery companies closer to fruition.
So what might thismean for the smaller, independent drone pilots? Well, probably not a whole lot just yet as this reasonableness approach puts a lot of weight on the user’s track record.
However, with the stock industry and other end users of drone footage increasingly demanding the footage they purchase be accompanied by full documentation and legal permissions, it won’t be long before pilots will earn their reputations for safety and compliance.
I’ve been flying a drone commercially since 2013. It was a heavy lift Cinestar and we flew Alexas, BlackMagic cameras, 5D’s, Gh4’s, and any other box we could strap to our Movi gimbal. At the time, the equipment, peripherals, licenses and insurance were a huge financial commitment. From the beginning, we struggled with other drone operators who weren’t licensed or insured and had less overhead as a result, quoting on jobs at half the standard day rate. It was difficult to compete and incredibly frustrating that nobody seemed to be doing anything about it.
To this day you can go to nearly any pilot forum and read their rantings (rightly so) of how hard it is to compete with illegal operators… always searching for the proper enforcement tool to prosecute them and protect the industry.
In my opinion, it’s not only about illegal operators but also about illegal operations. On more than one occasion I have been tempted to break the rules at the request of a client in order to get paid for my day’s work – so let’s be honest – even licensed operators can flaunt regulation and limits and put their insurance and their client at risk. So everyone has been searching for the right ‘stick’ to beat back this multifaceted problem.
I don’t think the ‘stick’ is the way to go. What we need is a ‘carrot’ approach. Steven Flynn, Skytango CEO
I’ve worked in film and television for 30 years, and I’ve spent a lot of my time in edit suites making sure music, photos, location releases and talent releases were always in order before a show went to air, or I’d have the legal team on my back. So after a career of risk mitigation (for want of a better description) I never understood why, as a drone pilot, clients would expect me to rock up in the streets of Dublin City Center and launch my heavy lift drone without permissions from the local land authority as well as having ATC clearance.
It seemed obvious to me that if a broadcaster or video client would care about having the rights to use a music track or a stock photo in their piece for fear of litigation, they would care if the drone footage they were using was legally acquired too – right?
Well, they do now! Partly because they are more educated around drone use and partly because of changing laws around privacy and data protection. So – buyer beware! It is as important for you to think about the legality of the drone operation as it is for the pilot to be aware. It won’t be long before authorities chase after the demand to corral the supply.
Last year we approached several large stock libraries highlighting a problem we saw coming down the tracks and while they concurred that it would eventually be an issue – none were willing to leap into that space of certified drone footage, as it seemed a slow train, laden with uncertain regulation and lack of enforcement.
Pond5 were the first to acknowledge the need for certified aerial footage, amid rumblings of drone output being audited by authorities and the buyers of illegally acquired content facing fines (monitoring the demand to control the supply), they called us back and said they had begun to see a change in their customers’ needs. They wanted to offer aerial footage they knew was legally acquired (in other words that the pilot followed all the rules), and were willing to sell at a higher premium for that assurance. Why? Well, we’re back to my old edit suite friend – risk mitigation! They partnered with DJI and took the step of promoting footage supplied by Part107 pilots.
The end user needs to be protected, especially if said end-user has deep corporate pockets if you catch my drift. No longer is it enough to fly your drone anytime, anywhere and sell those stunning aerials to anyone who’ll buy them or post them on social media channels (in many cases with illegal music)… you also want to prove that they were legally acquired.
I’ve traveled the world in the last 14 months speaking at drone conferences and events and everywhere I’ve listened to the same story from angry pilots who are still competing with illegal operators pushing rates down and making it hard to earn a living doing a highly skilled job in a regulated space.
‘DRM’, or ‘Digital Rights Management’ (the licensing of music, movies and images for broadcast across multiple channels) is needed in the drone asset space and it is what Skytango has been working toward since our inception. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving that way.
Incentives or ‘carrots’, like insurance breaks and hardware discounts is a step in the right direction. We have always believed that the best way to advance this industry is to offer incentives – where everyone benefits, rather than regulation and policing alone.
So, slowly I am seeing a sea change. Broadcasters and content buyers alike are becoming more and more educated about the process and complexity of flying drones. They are beginning to ask the right questions and are starting to see the inherent risks in using content that wasn’t legally obtained. Technology is advancing so fast that safety concerns around flying these machines are being addressed on a constant basis.
The bigger issue today is around Data Protection and Privacy. The approach of GDPR in Europe will make audit trails a necessity in this industry and I have no doubt the rest of the world will follow suit.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us and stayed with us on this journey. We are here for the long haul and look forward to working with you in the future.
Steven Flynn Licensed Drone Pilot, Skytango Founder & CEO
Steve Flynn is a multiple Emmy Award-winning Director of Photography, Director and Editor. He has worked with many major broadcast companies including PBS, CBS, HGTV, Discovery, BBC, RTE and even spent time working with Prince at Paisley Park. He has been a licensed drone pilot since 2013 and is the Founder and CEO of Skytango