Restrictive drone regulations have long been a contentious issue. They hinder the hobby drone operator but more importantly, the commercial and professional drone users that employ drones for a range of highly practical and cost effective applications. There are systems in place to apply for permission or permits to operate drones in specific areas at certain times but the process is tedious and long-winded, often taking three months or more. Given the fast pace of modern life, this situation is unacceptable. One group that are seriously frustrated with the current situation is journalists that rely on the technology to get here stories and forage out as quickly.
The great news for these folks are that the FAA have paid attention to their plight and intend to roll out a new system that will offer almost instant authorization. Initially, in controlled airspace, they will allow what they have named Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. Faze one of this operation covers 50 cities but will be expanded in the future. Clearly, Drone journalists are over the moon about this new development.
Professor Gregory McNeal of Pepperzine has long be outspoken on drone regulations and he recently wrote an article for Forbes in which he said that major airports such as Miami, Cincinnati and Phoenix are will be among the first to benefit form this new innovation as well a few smaller ones (Class C airports) including California Nebraska San Jose. The first to see the benefits are the smaller Class E airports which include Mankato (Minnesota) Regional Airport, Mason City (Iowa) Municipal Airport Norfolk (Virginia) Regional Airport and Lincoln. It makes sense to start with the smaller airports to avoid any teething problems when it comes to the bigger ones.
Journalists not covering stories in close proximity to an airport will soon be able to get their story out almost instantly, something that in the past that would takes months.
Drone Journalism Lab founder Matt Waite who also teaches at Poynter Drone School in Madison, Wisconsin. He us understandably very excited by the news. The idea behind it forms part of an unmanned traffic management. This concept is something that drone enthusiasts and professionals have been driving for many years.
Obviously, the system will factor in things such as local restrictions, weather, the area of airspace under control and other safety factors such as people in the area in question. Currently, the process is manual and FAA staff need to make a decision. This is a slow, tedious and potentially dangerous practice. The huge explosion in the popularity of drones for public and commercial use means that this manual system will not be effective.
Late last year, a number of tech giants got together to demonstrate the effectiveness of their UTM programs. These included Airmap, ANRA technologies, Transtex, Skycart, Simulyze and Amazon. Airmap demonstrated the technology from the waiver filing to the FAA’s response.
Founder of the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska, Matt Waite, heads up the Drone Journalism Schools that is organized by Poynter and also works works with DJI, Google News Lab and the NPPA.
Matt had the following to say: "The single largest impediment to journalists using drones for breaking news is access to airspace," he said. "When it can take months to get approval from the FAA, that just doesn't work for most news uses. This is a giant leap toward drones being a common part of your local news."
AirMap is one of the leading applications in this regards and the company said: "Drone operators will enter the details of their flight with just a few taps, and in areas where flights are pre-approved, receive instant authorization to fly." Systems like AirMap will allow you to select the area you want to fly on the app, and it will give you a quick idea of whether there are restrictions on the airspace. If there is a restriction but it is possible to fly with a waiver, the app prompts the pilot to ask for permission. You should get a response right away, not in 90 days as is currently the case. You can see more on their site: https://www.airmap.com/faa-uas-facility-maps-laanc/
The basis of the system is the FAA's new UAV application that will track and maps the government roll out. Thanks to these maps, the drone pilot will be able to get a pretty good idea of their chances of getting a waiver, even before the application is submitted.
The system is constantly evolving and improving and should be finalized by late October. The ability to glance at the map and getting a good idea of your chances of getting a waiver is a huge convenience and time saver.
They went on to say: "To be clear, this isn't going to magically solve all of the issues around using drones for journalism," Waite said. "Drone pilots will still have to avoid flying over people, we'll still have conflicts between journalists and law enforcement officers about when and where drone cameras can be used, and we'll still have ethical decisions to make. But this starts to remove a significant obstacle."
While the above is true, it still saves a massive amount of time and energy.
Another teacher at the Drone School and also legal counsel for the National Press Photographers Association stated that "as technology advances at an exponential rate, we often see the gap between regulations and implementation getting wider. This announcement is a perfect example of how technology can also be used to bridge that divide by automating the previously time-consuming manual process of approving such authorizations to fly in controlled airspace. This is but one of many hoped-for technological solutions that will make the use of drones for newsgathering as commonplace and easy to comply with as doing an internet search on one’s computer."
It is not only journalists that will benefit from this new system. Many commercial enterprises are now using drone technology from public safety, real estate, infrastructure, logistics, photographers and many others will benefit greatly from no longer having to wait up to 90 days for a response or approval from the FAA. Many of the areas that they need to conduct work with the aid of a drone. The new system and relaxation of drone regulation will have a major boost to productivity and ultimately the economy as a whole.
This is indeed great news for the Drone Industry.