Photojournalists hire lobbyists to work on drone rules

The National Press Photographers Association has brought on a lobbying firm to weigh in on upcoming regulations over the use of drones.

The photojournalist group has obtained the services of two former House staffers working at the Holland & Knight law firm to lobby on the flying machines, technically known as unmanned aerial systems, as the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) prepares to issue new draft rules. The lobbyists will work pro bono, an official with the photojournalist group told The Hill. 

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The FAA has maintained that it is illegal to fly drones for commercial purposes, except for a handful of exceptions. Flying the machines recreationally is allowed.  

Rules expected in coming weeks will pave the way to opening up the skies for more companies looking to use drones to map remote areas, conduct weather studies and take photographs from the sky.

The National Press Photographers Association has said that the small machines can be especially useful for journalists.

In July, the group filed comments with the FAA claiming that news organizations would have “many beneficial uses” for drones and arguing for additional exemptions to its current prohibitions.

“Visual journalists rely on the latest available technology, including aerial photography, in their efforts to inform the public,” the association said at the time.

“The evolution, ease of use, comparative safety, and relative affordability of high quality [small unmanned aerial systems] presents an enormous opportunity for visual journalists to bring a better understanding of important news and information to the public while minimizing risk to both the journalists themselves and the public at large.”

Upcoming rules are expected to be more restrictive than many drone advocates had previously hoped. A report in The Wall Street Journal last week indicated that the upcoming rules would require drone operators to have a pilot’s license and fly their machines under strict conditions.

Updated on Dec. 3 to note that Holland & Knight is working pro bono.