After a tornado devastated the city of Mayflower on April 27, storm chaser and videographer Brian Emfinger deployed a UAV to survey the damage, according to an article written for Forbes by Greg McNeal. Because the aircraft was up and flying just moments after the winds subsided, McNeal questions the FAA’s prohibition of drone journalism.
McNeal writes that the imagery obtained by Emfinger is evidence of both the storm’s power and value of employing UAVs to gather news, especially in regards to disasters. He argues that the ability to quickly deploy drones makes them an “ideal platform” for first responders. Information can be swiftly collected, and search-and-response operations would not be hindered by debris.
Texas EquuSearch has already sued the FAA for the right to use UAVs in missing-person searches. McNeal now wonders if the federal agency will take action against Emfinger for his unauthorized UAV flight.
He notes that the FAA has specifically asserted that journalism is a commercial venture, and thus, Emfinger’s activities would be subject to the agency’s commercial drone ban. In the past, the FAA has targeted journalists and university courses that involve UAVs.
McNeal ultimately contends that drone journalism has “clear First Amendment value” in that it can benefit the public.