Congress pushes FAA to research, expand drone use

July 19, 2016 11:00

Congress has given journalists a helping hand when it comes to using drones for breaking news. In a bill signed by the President last week to authorize the Federal Aviation Adminstration's budget for another year, Congress has ordered the agency to make it easier to use drones in emergency situations, and pushes the FAA to continue research and development of drone use.

Last month when the FAA published its long-awaited regulations for commerical drone operations, several key items of concern to newsrooms were addressed, such as registration requirements, operator certification and altitude limits.

But for newsrooms hoping to use drones in breaking news situations, a few issues remain. Under the rules due to go into effect in August, drones cannot be flown over people unless they are participating in the activity for which the drone is being flown, they cannot be flown beyond the line of sight of the operator and they cannot be flown at night.

The FAA has said it would be willing to issue waivers for flights at night, beyond line of sight or over people on a case-by-case basis, and intends to set up a way to apply for waivers online but has not said how long it would take for such waivers to be authorized. The new law should help keep that time to a minimum.

The House and Senate jointly issued a summary of the bill, which also includes provisions for tougher penalties for drone flights that interfere with government flight operations, including on the scene of wildfires, as well as ordering new measures to prevent drone interference with airports.