CNN has won an interesting waiver regarding its commercial drone operating license with the FAA – an exemption that allows it to fly its Vantage Robotics Snap drone over open-air crowds of people at altitudes of up to 150 feet. This is a new precedent in this kind of waiver: Previous exemptions allowed flight of drones over people in closed set operations (like for filmmaking purposes) and only when tethered, with a max height of 21 feet.
The new waiver granted to CNN, as secured through its legal counsel Hogan Lovells, allows for flight of the Vantage UAV (which is quite small and light) above crowds regardless of population density. It was a big win for the firm and the company because it represents a change in perspective on the issue for the FAA, which previously viewed all requests for exceptions from a “worst-case scenario” point of view.
Now, however, the FAA has accepted CNN’s “reasonableness Approach,” which takes into account not just the potential results of a crashed drone, but also the safe operating history of the company doing the flying, their built-in safety procedures, and the features included on the drone model itself that are designed to mitigate the results of any negative issues.
This could definitely be a boon to news gathering, since a drone’s eye view of protests, demonstrations and other large groups would indeed aid in telling the story, and drone use means not having to locate and fly a helicopter whenever this is desired. Also, helicopters can cause a lot of damage in freefall into crowds, too, which is why the new safety consideration by the FAA makes more sense than the one it replaces.