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NPPA Files Comments As Part of News Media Coalition Regarding FAA Drone Registration

November 7th, 2015 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , ,

In response to a Request for Information from the FAA, the NPPA, as part of a News Media Coalition (NMC) filed Comments on November 6, 2015, regarding Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) registration,

According to Charles D. Tobin of Holland & Knight, LLP on behalf of the 17 news organizations and associations, “the News Media Coalition has stressed, and the government has acknowledged, that the First Amendment rights of the public in receiving news and information in the public interest, and the media in gathering that news and information, must be preserved in the regulation of any new technology, including UAS.”

With that overriding principle in mind the NMC went on to “strongly urge the FAA to require registration at the point-of-sale with registration information submitted by the seller, rather than the end-users,” to avoid an overly burdensome and costly process.

The coalition also advised that the  “FAA should only require the submission of the limited contact information from users necessary to ensure accountability” and “to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens and bureaucratic delays, registration should be web-based [with] information about the registration should be available in an easy-to-use and searchable online database that provides access consistent with that provided by the FAA for other aircraft registration.”

Additionally, “operation of UAS should be permitted upon submission of registration information, rather than awaiting affirmative approval or imposing a waiting period before a UAS may be legally operated. Any delay or additional affirmative steps could restrict an otherwise qualified UAS operator from exercising her First Amendment rights” and that “there should not be any fees—for users or sellers—to file UAS registrations with the FAA.

The group went on express its concern about registration requirements that operators file detailed flight plans with the FAA because it “would not meaningfully contribute to safety “make it virtually impossible to use UAS for breaking news stories.”

Should the FAA adopt special rules for micro UAS (under 2.2 lbs.) the group believes they should be exempt from registration requirements because “collection of such information would be overly burdensome to users and to the FAA and, given micro UAS operational limitations and safety benefits.”

Finally, in order to encourage accountability and responsible use of UAS, the NMC urged the FAA to expedite a clear commonsense final small UAS rule and utilize stakeholders (such as those in the coalition) to “help better educate UAS operators, including hobbyists, regarding current regulations and best practices for safe UAS operation.”

Members of the News Media Coalition include: Advance Publications, Inc., A.H. Belo Corp., American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., The Associated Press, Capitol Broadcasting Co., Cox Media Group, LLC, Fusion Media Network, LLC, Gannett Co., Inc., Getty Images (US), Inc., National Press Photographers Association, NBCUniversal Media, LLC, The New York Times Company, Reuters, The E.W. Scripps Company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., TEGNA, Inc., and WP Company LLC.

Posted in drone, Drones, FAA, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Getty Images, National Press Photographers Association, New York TImes, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, small unmanned aerial systems, sUAS, UAS, Washington Post | No Comments »

NPPA Joins Brief Supporting Journalists’ Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems

May 7th, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The NPPA and a coalition of media organizations have joined to file a legal brief in a case that may help shape the future of the use of unmanned aerial systems (“UAS”) by journalists nationwide.  The brief, filed by the law firm Holland & Knight on behalf of the NPPA and 13 other media organizations, argues in favor of a UAS pilot fined by the FAA for flying a model plane fitted with a camera around the University of Virginia in 2011.

A judge overturned the fine against Raphael “Trappy” Parker in March, but the FAA appealed that decision. The National Transportation Safety Board will review the holding in the coming weeks.  The approaching NTSB review will focus, in part, on whether the FAA’s current ban on the unlicensed commercial use of small UAS exceeds its administrative authority.

The amicus brief argues that the FAA’s current policy is overly broad, and improperly fails to draw a distinction between commercial uses and “the use of UAS technology for the First Amendment-protected purpose of gathering and disseminating news and information.”  The brief contends that lagging administrative proceedings to update the rules and minimal efforts to grant licenses to private parties have combined with current policies to essentially ban civilian use of UAS.

NPPA General Cousel Mickey Osterreicher said the blanket ban improperly burdens journalists.

“With the advent of smaller and more advanced aerial platforms which are simple to operate and inexpensive to purchase, it is logical that innovative visual journalists [would] seek to report the news by using these devices to capture images with which to better inform the public,” Osterreicher said.  Osterreicher pointed to aerial photographs of the aftermath of the recent building explosion in Harlem as an important example of this type of publicly beneficial use.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed the idea that the First Amendment extends some protection to newsgathering activities.  By incorrectly deeming media organization’s use of UAS as a commercial activity, rather than a newsgathering application, current policies undermine significant constitutional concerns.  “Contrary to the FAA’s complete shutdown of an entirely new means to gather the news, the remainder of the federal government . . . has recognized that, in the eyes of the law, journalism is not like other business,” the brief asserts.

The particular utility of UAS for newsgathering purposes reinforces the First Amendment interests at stake.  A recent NPPA survey canvased approximately 50 news organizations and media associations to determine how small UAS could help journalists do their jobs.  The survey revealed UAS could aid in the reporting of newsworthy events such as natural disasters, accidents, and adverse weather conditions, where safety concerns or other restrictions might otherwise limit coverage.

Even strong proponents of UAS concede that increased use might present some dangers, especially in highly populated areas.  However, the brief argued, “the News Media Amici and the government can address legitimate safety concerns while protecting First Amendment rights and providing the public with enhanced access to important information.”  The government’s delay in promulgating a formal rulemaking process to consider the balancing of these interests is a central basis for the challenge to current policy.

The brief also argued that privacy concerns arising from media organizations’ use of UAS could be addressed by existing laws, and that forward looking policy determinations regarding privacy should be “based on a discussion among policy makers, privacy advocates, and industry.”

The other problem with the FAA’s current policy is that it was arguably adopted without proper administrative procedures.  When an agency seeks to establish enforceable rules or regulations, as it did here, it must meet certain legal requirements.   The lack of proper procedure is compounded by an absence of clarity in the policy itself, leading to outcomes that depart from legal norms, such as the regulation of model airplanes under general federal aviation regulations.

The current state of the law on UAS use for newsgathering purposes demands swift action from the FAA, Osterreicher concluded:

“It is incumbent that the FAA chart a pragmatic and expedited course in its administrative rulemaking. There is neither room nor time for complacency or hubris in addressing this matter, lest, flying too low or too high it end up failing like Icarus in an attempt to rule the sky.”

Osterreicher will present the NPPA study and paper on UAS at a meeting of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Orlando next week.  The FAA’s “roadmap” for integrating civilian UAS usage is available here.

Posted in Access, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | No Comments »

NPPA Joins 32 Other Organizations in Calling on FAA to Expedite Rulemaking for Unmanned Aircraft Systems

April 8th, 2014 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) joins the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and 30 other organizations in sending a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) encouraging the agency to expedite the rulemaking process for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations in the U.S. airspace. The letter also calls on the FAA to allow the limited use of small UAS for commercial purposes before the final rulemaking is completed.

While Congress authorized the integration of UAS in 2012 and the FAA has recently implemented key steps in the integration process, the rulemaking for small UAS has been delayed for almost four years. Last month’s FAA v. Pirker decision underscores the immediate need for a safety structure and regulatory framework for small UAS, according to the co-signees.

“The time for resolution has come, and we cannot afford any further delays. The technology is advancing faster than the regulations to govern it,” the letter states. “While the FAA has indicated its intention to appeal the Pirker decision to the full National Transportation Safety Board, we strongly encourage the FAA to simultaneously expedite its small UAS rulemaking and issue notice and public comment as soon as possible.”

In addition to NPPA, the co-signees include a broad array of organizations and industries, from agriculture to real estate to photography, that recognize the benefits of UAS in particular for newsgathering purposes.

In addition to expediting the UAS rulemaking, the organizations urged the FAA to use its congressional authority to allow some limited UAS operations right away.

“We recommend the FAA use all available means, including Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, to allow for some limited UAS operations, subject to the Secretary of Transportation’s safety determination, before the small UAS rule is finalized,” the letter states.

“The current regulatory void has left American entrepreneurs and others either sitting on the sidelines or operating in the absence of appropriate safety guidelines. The recreational community has proven that community-based safety programming is effective in managing this level of activity, and we highly encourage the FAA to allow similar programming to be used to allow the small UAS industry to establish appropriate standards for safe operation. Doing so will allow a portion of the promising commercial sector to begin operating safely and responsibly in the national airspace.”

According to AUVSI’s economic impact study, the integration of UAS will create more than 100,000 new jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade following integration. NPPA’s Executive Director Charles (Chip) Deale commended the groups’ effort to advocate for a regulatory framework.

“It is unfortunate that the FAA has taken so long to address this issue in a commonsense and expedited manner and we urge Administrator Huerta to include our organization and other stakeholders in its rulemaking process,” Deale said.

The letter co-signees include: Aerospace States Association, Air Traffic Controllers Association, Airborne Law Enforcement Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’ Airports Council International – North America, American Association of Airport Executives, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Society of Agronomy, American Soybean Association, Crop Science Society of America, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufactures Association, Helicopter Association International, International Society of Precision Agriculture, International Stability Operations Association, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Realtors, National Association of State Aviation Officials, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, National Ski Areas Association, National Sunflower Association, North American Equipment Dealers Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, Realtors Land Institute, Soil Science Society of America and U.S. Canola Association

The full letter may be found at www.auvsi.org/AUVSI-AMA-Sign-On-Letter-To-FAA

Posted in Access, drone, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, UAS, Visual Journalists | No Comments »