Don't expect drone journalism to be legal in the US before 2015

Transient

Citing "unanticipated issues," the Federal Aviation Administration has indicated that rules for small unmanned aircraft, the kind that journalists are most likely to use in the field, will be pushed back to January 2015 at earliest.

For a while, I've been writing on DroneJournalism.org that while it's expected that the FAA will  rules for unmanned aircraft in September 2015, that deadline really doesn't mean much to journalists who want to use small drones.

The 2015 deadline mandated by congress through the FAA Modernization and Reform Act is for integrating large unmanned aircraft, heavier than 55 pounds, into the nation's airspace, where they would mingle with manned aircraft.

Journalists, rather, are learning to deploy systems that weigh much less, and at much lower altitudes. Those drones are categorized as small unmanned aircraft systems, or sUAS, and congress set a different deadline for rules on those aircraft.

In the latest report by the United States Department of Transportation on progress being made for significant rules within the agency (word doc), the FAA now plans to published proposed rules in November 2014. The agency will collect public comments on those rules until January 2015.

According to Patrick Egan of sUASNews, the agency then has 18 months after the end of the comment period to finalize the rules. That would mean small commercial drones, including ones used by journalists, could be legally deployed sometime in June 2016.

The FAA reauthorization act required that the agency "a final rule on small unmanned aircraft systems that will allow for civil operation of such systems in the national airspace system" by June 2014.

An FAA spokesperson recently said that journalism is considered a commercial enterprise, and therefore is "not allowed" under the existing regulations.

Until those rules are codified, or a court finds that the FAA has no jurisdiction over low-flying unmanned aircraft, only public entities with certificates of authorization, or hobbyists would are able to fly small drones in the skies above the United States.