The FAA has allowed CNN to fly a small unmanned aircraft system over crowds. According to Mark Blanks, director of Virginia Tech’s FAA-designated drone test site team, this is “an important milestone for the industry.” Part 107 currently prohibits drone operations over people.
“This is a first. There have only been a few waivers granted for flights over people, and most of them were very narrow in scope,” said the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership's Blanks. “A waiver that allows flights over large crowds is unique in the industry — in addition to obviously being very beneficial for aerial journalism at CNN.”
Virginia Tech said that according to Blank, the FAA would need to examine a compelling safety case to grant such a waiver. And that case would need to be backed up by convincing evidence that the drone would not cause serious injuries to a person should there be an incident. This is something that Virginia Tech said its test site has researched in collaboration with the university’s injury biomechanics group.
The collaboration resulted in what Virginia Tech said is the “first peer-reviewed academic study” that offers quantitative data on injury risk associated with a drone-human collision or other impact incident. The research was published in the “Annals of Biomedical Engineering”. It assessed head and neck injury risk from three small commercially available aircraft in a variety of impact scenarios, the university said. The data, though, was not involved in CNN’s waiver.
“The ability to fly over people is critical to the viability of many commercial applications for unmanned aircraft,” Blank said. “For CNN to be granted a waiver like this means that it’s possible to demonstrate that these operations can be done safely, under certain circumstances. This is a great leap forward for the industry.”