Skip to main content

FAA Issues CNN Waiver to Fly Drones Over People

ATLANTA—CNN announced this week that it became the first organization to be granted a waiver by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly unmanned aerial systems over people in the United States. The FAA continues to work on overall rules for drone flight over people and expects to issue a proposal for comment this winter. In the meantime, CNN said it received a certificate of waiver to operate the Fotokite Pro, a tethered platform that weighs less than two pounds, over uncovered people who are not directly participating in the UAS operation. As part of the waiver approval process, CNN also said that it demonstrated to the FAA that its operations could be conducted safely.

Current FAA rules prohibit flight within 500 feet of those not involved in the operation of the drone. Rules adopted in late June that went into effect Monday, Aug. 29, narrowed that down to restricting “flight over people,” with a couple of modifications:

“First, this rule will allow a small unmanned aircraft to be operated over a person who is inside a stationary covered vehicle. Second, this rule will make the restriction on operating a small unmanned aircraft over people waivable. This will allow the FAA to consider, on a case-by-case basis, any additional mitigations that are incorporated into a small UAS operation. The FAA will grant a waiver request allowing small unmanned aircraft flight over people if the applicant establishes that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.”

CNN’s waiver builds on its work advocating for the use of drones by news organizations. In 2015, CNN was selected by the FAA as one of the first three industry “Pathfinders” to develop safe uses of UAS in newsgathering, particularly in urban populated areas. Two weeks ago, CNN announced CNN Aerial Imagery and Reporting—CNN AIR—a designated unit with two full-time UAS operators to fully integrate aerial imagery and reporting across all CNN networks and platforms, along with Turner Broadcasting and Time Warner entities. (See, “CNN Creates Drone Unit”," Aug. 18, 2016.)

“We are thrilled to receive the FAA’s approval to fly UAS over people,” said David Vigilante, senior vice president of Legal for CNN. “The use of UAS has huge promise for newsgatherers and consumers of news. The ability to fly over people is a huge step forward, and a necessary one as we cover the news where it happens. We look forward to continue to work in partnership with the FAA to move UAS policy boundaries forward for the industry.”

“Not only is this a milestone moment for CNN, this approval is a milestone for the commercial UAS industry as a whole,” said Lisa Ellman, co-chair of Hogan Lovells’ UAS Practice and 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.”

Also see…
Aug. 30, 2016

CNN AIR: Q&A With Greg Agvent
“We are all just scratching the surface of what’s possible. Certainly for the business we’re in, video is a driver, and a natural starting point. We are operating in essentially in three video “buckets:” Production value; Enhanced storytelling; Context and understanding; …but different sensors will create different data and add context beyond just the picture.”

Aug. 30, 2016
FAA Issues CNN Waiver to Fly Drones Over People
The regulations adopted on June 21, 2016 officially take effect today, Aug. 29.

Aug. 29, 2016
FAA Drone Rules Go Into Effect
The regulations adopted on June 21, 2016 officially take effect today, Aug. 29.

Aug. 18, 2016
CNN Creates Drone Unit
CNN was selected by the FAA as one of the first three industry “Pathfinders” to develop safe uses of UAS in newsgathering.

Aug. 3, 2016
FAA to Propose Drone Flight Over People Rule by Winter
Federal regulators will address drone flight over people in a proposal due out for comment this winter.