This month, the FAA issued a small UAS (sUAS) operating waiver that allows CNN to operate over people, including non-participants.  Building on CNN’s previous waiver, this new waiver represents a growing opportunity for businesses to use drones for well-attended events.  

CNN’s first waiver issued in 2016 had many restrictions that made the operations commercially inadequate, including a maximum altitude of 21 feet above ground level (AGL), restricted operation to airspace over private or controlled-access property, prohibited operations over open-air assemblies, and use of a tethered UAS.  This new waiver allows for operations with the Vantage Robotics Snap sUAS up to 150 feet (AGL) over people and without the prior limitations regarding private or controlled-access property, open-air assembles, or tethering.

In addition to CNN, FLIR Unmanned Aerial Systems (FLIR UAS) received a similar waiver in May 2017 to operate over people for operations with the Prox Dynamics PD-100 Personal Reconnaissance System.  This waiver required that the operation fly no higher than 150 feet AGL and stay at least 10 feet from any non-participating people, but also included concurrent waivers to operate at night, from a moving vehicle, and beyond visual line of sight (using first person view).  Waivers issued thereafter, including other waivers for CNN, have prohibited operations over non-participants or have imposed other restrictions (i.e., required operation over sparsely populated areas, sustained flight over non-participants is prohibited, etc.).

Under Part 107, the FAA may waive the general prohibition of operations over people, subject to applicants demonstrating the safety of the operations.  Among other things, applicants must show that the UAS will not cause serious injury and address any type of serious injury that may occur as a result of the sUAS design. 

Although this new CNN waiver explicitly acknowledges operations over non-participants, it continues to limit the FAA’s waiver to a certain sUAS model and maximum height of 150 feet AGL.  Based on this recent waiver, other UAS manufacturers and operators may be able to obtain similar FAA waivers after closely following FAA’s guidelines and making the necessary safety case.