FAA on UAS Video Tells Journalists: ‘There is No Gray Area’


The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review published this minute-long, aerial video of a local event. Jesse Tinsley, the photographer who used an unmanned camera-carrying aircraft to record the video from 30 feet off the ground, said it was “not illegal, but currently in a gray area.” Au contraire, said the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday. “There is no gray area,” said FAA spokesperson Les Dorr.

Hobbyists are allowed to use small, radio-controlled craft under specific guidelines, but “if you’re using it for any sort of commercial purposes, including journalism, that’s not allowed,” he added.

The FAA generally contacts transgressors and requests them to cease their activities, rather than penalizing them (unless they’re operating aircraft in a reckless manner, in which case sanctions could be meted out).

“Our main goal is to get them to stop,” Dorr said. “Most of the time people are cooperative.”

(Two drone journalism programmes received cease-and-desist letters from the FAA in July.)

Acknowledging the confusion about the operation of unmanned aircraft systems, Dorr said that soon-to-be-released FAA guidelines about small craft should make it “much clearer…what you can do and what you can’t do.”

He also acknowledged the appeal for journalists in using UAS to report some stories.

“It’s an attractive technology for journalists, and people would like to be able to use it,” Dorr said. “That said, the FAA is responsible for the safety of the air space. And as much as we’d like to encourage them, we can’t let them do it as long as there are no rules in place.”

Source: Poynter


  1. So instead of just being responsible for passenger – carrying aircraft, the FAA now thinks it owns the air from the ground up.
    And who runs the FAA? People responsible to voters?
    Nope…..people appointed by politicians and responsible to……no one.
    Typical Big Government takeover.
    If we had a Congress with a backbone it would be time for it to move in, but the chances of that happening are slim and none.

  2. It makes absolutely no sense that a hobbyist can legally fly a lightweight drone somewhere yet a journalist cannot do the exact same thing. The FAA’s job is promoting public safety in aviation. This includes both people who occupy aircraft (pilots and passengers) and people on the ground. A UAS have no occupants but can threaten other aircraft and people on the ground if they are large enough. The FAA needs use common sense and consider only the threat to public safety in their efforts to regulate UAS. When they revert to this “no gray area” it may reveal their real desire is to protect their monopoly in airspace control.

  3. FAA authority begins with the Commerce Clause of the United States of America Constitution, which is limited to interstate commerce. As a federal agency, it does not have authority to make law. State law is what governs. Agencies are not elected by the people and judges give them power without regard to the will of the people.

    1. So, some courageous journalist needs to ignore a cease and desist order, and mount a Constitutional challenge to whatever fine is levied – to get this over-broad and Orwellian effort before some Federal Judge sympathetic to the 1st Amendment. Surely, members of the UAV community could imagine some clever, Crowd-Sourced Financing initiatives to support such a “Defendant” (such as a courageous, bonafide Journalist from the Spokesman.) This is not about whether UAV’s are potential threats to the safety of every other thing that flies. Well defined rules and laws hammered out by all stakeholders – public and private – will abide those concerns – if everyone is given the opportunity to speak. (I am still waiting for my invitation to participate in the dialog and decision making process with the FAA.)
      Bottom line, the freedom of speech, and press and the exercise of legitimate commercial activities mean nothing if the government can control how and where information is gathered and, goods and services are freely exchanged. Know that the government seeks “full spectrum dominance” of everything – foreign and domestic – for an assortment of reasons real and imagined. This is precisely the time to “nip this in the bud” and establish some Case Law in our favor – before their authority and the Law become so hardened, resistance becomes futile – if not impossible.

      Any wanna-be defendants in a Federal Lawsuit out there that we can organize around???

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