First of its kind waiver allows CNN to fly drones over crowds

The FAA has granted a waiver to CNN allowing the media company to fly drones over crowds, covering public assemblies to a height of 150 feet (45 meters).


The first of its kind to allow untethered flight to this degree, this waiver is the product of two years of research by CNN and its partner Vantage Robotics who established their case for safety with the FAA.

CNN is one of the most innovative media companies using drones for journalism and newsgathering. In 2016, they even established a dedicated drone unit to fully integrate aerial imagery and reporting across their networks and platforms.

The “Reasonableness Approach” developed by CNN and Vantage Robotics established conditions whereby a number of factors were taken into account before the FAA granted the waiver. These factors include the operators safe history of use, safety features of the craft and exhaustive test data, as CNN explains in their press release.

“We are pleased that Vantage was able to work with CNN to present and establish the safety case for the Snap to the FAA”,

said Tobin Fisher, CEO of Vantage Robotics.

The waiver to Part 107 (Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations) applies to the use of the Vantage Snap UAS, a frangible, 1.37-pound aircraft designed specifically with crowd safety in mind.

Here is sample footage in 4K shot with the Vantage Snap:

While the Vantage Snap is limited in its use at the moment, this decision could spell the beginning of a new regulatory trend within the industry.

Former US presidential advisor and attorney Lisa Ellman of Hogan Lovells, the firm that represented CNN in the waiver application process, has been working hard in the last few years to develop legislation allowing commercial use of drones.

She believes this new legislation could have broader implications within the industry:

“CNN’s new waiver represents a very important development for the commercial drone industry at large. The FAA’s willingness to approve reasonable waiver requests is a strong step in the right direction as we seek to bring the benefits of commercial drones to the American people.”,

commented Ellman on Unmanned Aerial.

Ellman is a strong advocate of commercial drone use in the U.S. and feels U.S. legislation still has a way to go before the industry can catch up with countries like Japan, which has allowed the commercial use of drones for the past 20 years already.

In a broader sense, this regulatory step has the potential to bring the plans of companies such as Amazon, eBay and even regular delivery companies closer to fruition.

So what might this mean for the smaller, independent drone pilots? Well, probably not a whole lot just yet as this reasonableness approach puts a lot of weight on the user’s track record.

However, with the stock industry and other end users of drone footage increasingly demanding the footage they purchase be accompanied by full documentation and legal permissions, it won’t be long before pilots will earn their reputations for safety and compliance.

Exciting times. Watch this space.

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