I just attended the Bedford Camera Photocon Expo 2015 in Oklahoma City. One of the keynote speakers was Corey Rich, who was sponsored and invited by Nikon to present his filmmaking experience using Nikon cameras. I eagerly attended his presentation and was amazed at his imagery during the presentation. As part of his presentation he talks about camera movement – jibs, sliders, stabilizers. Towards the end of his presentation he talks about putting a Nikon camera on a drone and flying it in US National Airspace System, quite obviously for commercial purposes.
Wait. Isn’t this illegal?
As he kept talking about mounting a Nikon DSLR to a drone and flying it in places like Moab, Utah and Joshua Tree National Park, I was taken aback by this blatant disregard for FAA rules. He talked extensively about how many times they had crashed a drone.
Huh? Say what? You are not only flying drones in US airspace for commercial purposes, against all FAA rules, but also crashing said drones on a regular basis?
As a 5,000 instrument rated pilot, I was quite alarmed by his complete disregard for FAA regulations and the cavalier attitude with which he flaunted federal rules, not to mention the safety of people on the ground. Worse yet, I felt he and Nikon were glamorizing this illegal activity and encouraging participants to go buy their own drone, hang a Nikon DSLR camera on the bottom, then go fly it themselves for commercial gain – clearly against ALL FAA regulations.
I interrupted Corey’s presentation and asked “isn’t that illegal”. He nervously brushed off the question by saying “the FAA recently approved flying drone’s for commercial use”. Well, yes and no. The FAA granted the very first special exemptions allowing commercial drone use on September 24, 2014. I did not see Corey Rich Productions in there, although he could be using a contractor that is approved. However, when he shot the D4 promotional video “Why” several years ago there WERE no companies approved for commercial use of drones.
Drones ARE allowed for use by hobbyists, but flying a drone big enough to lift a Nikon D4, and getting paid by Nikon to fly said drone to create footage for this video to promote their latest camera, would be classified by any reasonable person as “commercial” use.
As a pilot this clearly illegal use of drones by Corey Rich productions, and the promotion and glorification of this illegal activity by Nikon, really disturbed me. I am a big fan of Nikon and have purchased tens of thousands of dollars of their products over the 20 years I have been in photography. They are a great company to work with, their gear is rock solid, and their dealer Bedford Camera in Oklahoma City is really a class act in the crowded photography dealer market. How could Nikon, an icon of the photography industry, promote and glorify this illegal use of their products and then show such use on their web site, and then sponsor this guy to go around and glorify this illegal use of their products?
Any drone big enough to fly a Nikon DSLR is a huge beast, not something small like you can buy at your local Hobbytown. A drone that big can easily bring down an airplane along with the pilot and all passengers on board. Sure, these drones probably don’t fly where airliners fly, but they can easily fly in the airspace that me and hundreds of thousands of other pilots and passengers fly in small piston powered aircraft. One of the reasons general aviation has such a stellar safety record is the ongoing and continuous culture of safety that starts when you first get a pilot license, and continues all through training and ongoing education throughout your pilot career. We are taught to always think of safety, the safety of our passengers and the public on the ground. Even the proposed new rules by the FAA require a licensed pilot to fly the drone, along with an observer and camera operator.
To see these safety standards ignored and disregarded by someone wanting to “get the shot” for profit really irritates me to no end. It also irritates me as a photographer and videographer that a fellow photographer and videographer like Corey Rich is able to profit above and beyond other photographers because of his willingness to ignore the rules that law-abiding photographers choose to follow. And worse yet, Nikon supports and promotes Corey Rich precisely because he DOES break FAA rules of drone photography that other photographers choose to follow.
The Federal Aviation Administration is working on rules to allow commercial drone operation and issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on February 23, 2015. This is NOT authorization for commercial drone operation, just the proposed rules. After a comment period through April 24, the FAA will go back, review the comments, possibly modify the rules, and then, maybe, issue the official rules on the commercial use of drones.