Media Organizations File Drone Brief with NTSB

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Sixteen media organizations filed a brief (PDF) with the National Transportation Safety Board in support of aerial photographer Raphael Pirker. Pirker was fined $10,000 by the FAA for flying a drone near the University of Virginia to make a commercial video in October 2011. An administrative law judge ruled in March that the FAA can't enforce its policy against all commercial use of drones when the agency hasn't issued regulations for those uses. The FAA appealed the judge's decision to the full five-member Safety Board (the appeal process means the ban is still in place despite the judge’s ruling). In the brief, the news organizations asserted, "The FAA's position is untenable as it rests on a fundamental misunderstanding about journalism. News gathering is not a 'business purpose.' It is a First Amendment right.”

However, it appears that at least one media organization may have supported an opposite position with the FAA itself as recently as 2007.  A commercial helicopter operation engaged in “electronic news gathering” for “television stations throughout the United States” sought an exception to federal regulations because it claimed it was a business engaged in “aerial work.” In a letter from FAA Counsel dated May 2, 2007 (PDF), the FAA agreed and said that a business engaged in “news gathering” was conducting aerial work under the Federal Aviation Regulations. There was no indication of a claim at the time by any media organization that manned aircraft operations for news gathering was a First Amendment right instead of a business. Accordingly, the position now being asserted by the media organizations has lead to claims that they are really just seeking a cheaper way of obtaining aerial images by not paying for skilled pilots and are ignoring a potentially serious hazard to aircraft occupied by humans and to people on the ground under drone operations.