It is one of the more bizarre stories coming out of spring training this year: The Washington Nationals were spanked by the Federal Aviation Administration for the unauthorized use of a drone to film practices in February.
Now, we’re not talking about drones in the military sense: these are basically unmanned full-size planes controlled by remote control. The drones used by the Nats — or, more precisely, a team photographer — are a lot smaller, consisting of some small motors and a camera controlled by remote control. They’ve become popular with photographers around the globe for shots requiring a unique perspective — and you can see how useful one would be to provide a panoramic
But they still could do some damage if they collide with a small aircraft, and that’s why the FAA has barred their commercial use. (Ironically, you can use them if you’re an amateur.) Other countries are more lenient on their use, and there’s some reason to think the FAA is overapplying the rules to something that’s basically harmless. At least, that’s the argument from the Nationals via AP:
“No, we didn’t get it cleared, but we don’t get our pop flies cleared either and those go higher than this thing did,” a team official said when contacted by The Associated Press. The drone flights ceased the next day. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named.
The agency bars commercial use of drones no matter how seemingly benign. The lone exception is an oil company that has been granted permission to fly drones over the Arctic Ocean, and it took an act of Congress to win that concession.
Drones are inevitably a part of the future, and the FAA is being urged to work out a usage plan sooner than later. In the end, nothing was hurt by Nats’ use of a drone — though for a team playing in the nation’s capital you’d expect a little more discretion about an intervention by a federal agency, no matter how silly the intervention.