Drone Journalism in the Nation’s Capital

This week’s assignment was to identify a hometown story that could be enhanced with aerial footage or other types of data captured from a drone.  I live just outside of Washington, DC, where there are any number of stories that could be enhanced in this way, from parades and concerts to aerial coverage of the upcoming inauguration or subsequent protests.

However, none of these will come to pass, since the District and its surrounding 30 miles are under a strict No Drone Zone rule.  From the FAA:

The National Capital Region is governed by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) within a 30-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which restricts all flights in the greater DC area.  The SFRA is divided into a 15-mile radius inner ring and a 30-mile radius outer ring.

  • Flying an unmanned aircraft within the 15-mile radius inner ring is prohibited without specific FAA authorization.

  • Flying a UAS for recreational or non-recreational use between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, D.C. is allowed under these operating conditions:

    • Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (including any attachments such as a camera)

    • Aircraft must be registered and marked

    • Fly below 400 ft.

    • Fly within visual line-of-sight

    • Fly in clear weather conditions

    • Never fly near other aircraft

Since we’re within the 15-mile inner ring, it’s doubtful that we would ever be able to get specific FAA authorization to capture drone footage for any of these stories.  If we move out farther into MD or VA, however, we might be able to capture things like National Football League (NFL) games at Fed Ex Field in Prince George’s County – that’s a tough one, though, because while the stadium is 20+ miles away from the airport by car/roads, as the crow flies, it appears that it might be JUST within that 15 mile No Drone Zone:

DCA to FedEx Field

Moving into the 30-mile outer ring of the No Drone Zone, it might be neat to capture traffic out on Interstate 66  in VA as they move towards making that a toll road (The Washington Post‘s Dr. Gridlock might be interested in this kind of footage!) or to record beachgoers during high tourist seasons at the Maryland and Delaware beaches.  Even then, however, a drone pilot would have to stay cognizant of not flying over crowds, being properly registered, and staying under 400 feet/out of the way of other aircraft.  Still, these could make for very interesting stories in the long run!

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