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Drone ENG Approved for Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS —Drone-based electronic newsgathering is official in Las Vegas. The Federal Aviation Administration granted a commercial drone waiver to ArrowData, a self-described “aerospace and data services company.” ArrowData becomes the first company to receive an FAA drone waiver specifically for ENG:

“The exemption would allow the petitioner to operate an unmanned aircraft system to conduct electronic newsgathering in Las Vegas,” the waiver states.

ArrowData’s waiver covers the CineStar 8 Okto XL, shown left and described by its maker as “an aerial platform that allows for large payloads and long flight times” while delivering “smooth footage.” As with the half-dozen drone waivers granted to movie production companies last fall, ArrowData’s requires it to have a licensed pilot fly the CineStar.

The firm’s pilot is Mario Wilson, former USAF B-29 and F-16 pilot who also flew in the Air Force’s Predator program, according to ArrowData’s Ron Futrell. (See “Q&A: Ron Futrell on ArrowData’s ENG Drone Waiver.) He said that ArrowData was not yet flying for any specific Las Vegas TV stations, but the FAA waiver mentioned the local CBS affiliate:

The FAA waiver follows on ArrowData’s Jan 8 request for exemption, which states that it’s an “operator of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUASs) equipped to conduct aerial photography for KLAS-TV for the purpose of electronic newsgathering…”

Also, as published in the Federal Register, the request states that Bowhead was seeking permission “to conduct aerial photography for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ athletic departed for activities at the Sam Boyd Stadium for major sporting events.”

ArrowData’s waiver contains a number of conditions that are similar to the FAA’s proposed rules for all commercial drone flight:

  • Maximum weight of no more than 55 pounds, including payload.
  • Maximum airspeed of 100 miles per hour (87 knots)
  • Unaided visual line of sight by operator.
  • Altitude of no higher than 400 feet above ground (versus 500 feet in the FAA’s proposed rules).
  • All operations must be aided by visual observer, (which the proposed rules allow for but do not require).
  • Pre-flight inspection.
  • Operator must be a licensed pilot (versus a “certified operator” under the proposed rules.)
  • No night flight.
  • No operation within five nautical miles of an airport without express permission from the airport authority.
  • Drone must steer clear of manned aircraft.
  • May not be operated from a moving vehicle or platform.

Other conditions of the waiver that are not in the FAA’s proposed rules include several maintenance requirements as well as the following:

  • No operation on a closed set.
  • No operation “less than 500 feet below or less than 2,000 feet horizontally from a cloud or when visibility is less than three statue miles from the pilot in charge.”
  • Pilot must abort flight “in the event of unpredicted obstacles or emergencies.”
  • No flight that doesn’t leave “at least five minutes” of operational capability at the end.
  • All operations are to be conducted “over private or controlled-access property” with owner’s permission.
  • Flight plan registered with local Flight Standards District Office at least three days before flight.
  • All violation of stated flight boundaries must be reported.
  • Flight no closer than 500 feet of a non-flight crew individuals who consent to be present at the operation.

The exemption is good through April 30, 2017 unless superseded or rescinded.

ArrowData said that in addition to it receiving the first ENG waiver, it is the first company in Nevada to receive a commercial drone exemption. (See its Tesla promo at left.) The company used the waiver announcement to promote what it refers to as “aerojournalism.”

“This approval from the FAA provides tremendous opportunity for our company to pursue AeroJournalism while working with local FAA officials to ensure safe flight operations,” said James Fleitz, vice president of ArrowData.

ArrowData was formed last year, and is owned by Bowhead Mission Services, a government contractor with headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Three of its five top executives are USAF veterans; a third is describer as a “decorated military veteran with experience in law enforcement and intelligence analysis,” and Futrell is a TV journalist with 30 years of experience, including reporting from a chopper.

Also see…

April 28, 2015
Drone Rules Tweaks Sought for Night Flight, Over Bystanders, Beyond VLOS
News organizations need to fly drones at night, over bystanders and beyond an operator’s visual line of sight, among other things. That’s according to joint comments filed by the NAB, NCTA and the RTDNA.

March 25, 2015 –
FAA Eases Drone Rules, Opens Door for Newsgathering
The FAA this week eased the process for getting a commercial drone-use waiver by establishing a temporary blanket exemption for operations at or below 200 feet.

March 24, 2015 –
WMUR-TV Says FAA Drone Rules Preclude ENG
Proposed rules for the commercial use of drones renders them useless for newsgathering, WMUR-TV General Manager Jeff Bartlett told Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) chair of the Aviation Operations, Safety and Security Subcommittee.

February 17, 2015
Non-Pilots Can Fly Drones Under Proposed Rules
The proposal is counter to exemptions granted last year to several TV and movie production companies requiring unmanned aerial systems to be operated by a licensed pilot.