CNN Wins FAA Waiver To Fly Newsgathering Drones Over People

TV news helicopters are so passe: CNN says today that it’s the first organization that has secured a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly an unmanned drone — formally called an unmanned aerial system (UAS) — over people in the U.S.

“The ability to fly over people is a huge step forward, and a necessary one as we cover the news where it happens,” says David Vigilante, CNN’s SVP of Legal. “We look forward to continue to work in partnership with the FAA to move UAS policy boundaries forward for the industry.”

Up to now CNN has been able to use drones over unpopulated areas, which it has done to show the extent of flooding in Louisiana, Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, and the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. They’ve also been used indoors at CNN’s presidential primary debates and town halls.

The Time Warner-owned news network had to satisfy the FAA that it could safely operate its less than two-pound Fotokite Pro. Last year the agency picked CNN as one of three companies to explore potential safe uses of drones: CNN looked at opportunities to cover news in crowded urban areas while PrecisionHawk explored rural crop monitoring and BNSF Railway investigated ways to inspect track infrastructure.

Earlier this month the news network unveiled its CNN Aerial Imagery and Reporting (CNN AIR) unit. It has two two full-time UAS operators who will help to integrate drone images into CNNs news reports as well as with other Time Warner units. .

The FAA waiver is “a milestone for the commercial UAS industry as a whole,” says Lisa Ellman, Co-Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance. “Many of the most promising UAS uses require safe operation near and over people that might not be involved with the flight. CNN’s success paves the way for the rest of the commercial UAS industry as we seek to safely and broadly integrate commercial drones into our airspace.”

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