There have been few issues which have been more visible and transparent than the FAA’s administration of the UAS rulemaking and grant of §333 exemptions. The press publishes articles about what some expert “thinks” that the FAA will do. The agency issues full press releases about an exemption granted to a small real estate agent in Arizona.
Not so with the significant announcement of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement among the FAA, CNN and the Georgia Tech Research Institute—search of the FAA and DoT websites produces no CRDA, exemption, press release or any other document. CNN and the media have touted this important precedent, but other than a quote by Administrator Huerta in the CNN release, there is nothing official!
UAS coverage of news events is one of the most obvious and difficult application of this emerging technology. Live images of an accident, fires, hostage standoff, athletic contests and a whole host of newsworthy events will be most compelling if delivered by an UAS. At the same time, these occurrences are composed of the individuals participating and the spectators. If there should be a loss of control, it is quite possible that a large number of unprotected people might be subject to injury by a UAS. The FAA must be interested in how CNN and GTRI would learn how to mitigate that risk in these experiments.
There are a number of other issues unique to UAS video journalism (i.e. covering a police event in which the criminals would gain valuable information from current views) and they may be addressed by others. There are a number of technical SAFETY questions, which release of the CRDA would answer, such as:
· How soon after safety procedures are developed will they be released to the public and other news organizations? A CRDA is premised on “technology transfer” and quick dissemination of the gains developed by research is fair, but how soon, what level of confidence is required?
· Will CNN’s research activities be permitted to be broadcast live? If yes, will this “precedent” be immediately applied to other networks which meet all of the “conditions” established in this CRDA?
· Are there defined limitations for this experiment:
o Must the CNN team get a §333 exemption and/or COA?
o Are there height limitations?
o Proximity to airports?
o Must the pilots for these commercial operations hold a commercial license?
o What protections are required to assure safety for those on the ground? Is the research designed to test those parameters? How actively will the FAA be involved in these tests?
o The airworthiness of the UAS—will the CNN test be required to get a type, production and/or airworthiness certificates?
o Manuals and procedures—subject to prior approval by FAA? Submitted to headquarters and/or the field?
o Will the CNN team be required to manage these tests through SMS? If not how will safety risks be assessed, documented and reported?
o Other privileges and limitations?
The FAA was well advised to use a real world test to examine the use of UASs in the gathering of news. It would also be useful to make the CRDA agreement public and to announce all of the parameters/ procedures/policies attached to this experiment. It is odd that this newsworthy event has involved, so far, a minimal disclosure the CRDA terms.
PS –after writing this essay, the next step in the UAS journalism was announced. “A coalition of 10 news media companies is pleased to announce that it has partnered with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) for the testing of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to gather news.” News is a 24/7/365 business; there’s surely more to come!
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