Commercial use of drones is presently banned in the USA, but experimental drones can be flown within regulations. Experimental drones are allowed to fly at altitudes up to 400ft, within eyesight at all times, and cannot be flown over populated areas. They cannot be used for commercial purposes. By 2015, new regulations to open those restrictions are expected to be in place or at least on the way. For right now, these are the rules.
Knowing the present restrictions, if you’re interested in radio-controlled (R/C) drone video, experimentation within the bounds of the law might be an excellent career move. Be aware however, that drones crash. Often. If you want to get some R/C flying experience, start with something cheap, practice in the middle of nowhere, and get permission from the land owner first.
How did your corporate VP of IT get such a strong grip on the brass ring? He was probably the first guy or gal on the block to buy and master a telephone modem. A similar career opportunity scenario could be unfolding with drones, ENG or otherwise.
Do not let anyone trick you into airing your hobby video or using your amateur drone gear in any way at work. Federal regulations always trump raging newsroom hormones. That’s why nearly everyone wants the FAA to start making some binding commercial drone decisions.
One of the FAA decisions in play is who can and can’t fly a commercial drone platform in domestic airspace. In most military scenarios, a two-person crew flies the drone — a pilot and a sensor operator. Many in authority want domestic drone pilots to hold at least a FAA commercial pilot’s license with an instrument rating, and have a third class or better FAA medical certificate. The sensor operator does not necessarily need to be a licensed pilot, but it would be a huge resume plus. Air traffic controllers want formal ground training and special licensing of drone pilots.
It should be noted that Australia introduced the world’s first national commercial drone legislation in 2002. Today, 14 commercial licenses have been issued, most for larger fixed wing commercial drones. Interestingly, the latest list doesn’t include any broadcasters, although Australia’s ABC News is reportedly testing drones.
The author wishes to thank Journalism Professor Matthew Waite at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for his help and valuable insight in preparing this tutorial. He can be contacted at email@example.com. His drone journalism website is at http://www.dronejournalismlab.org/.