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Drones deliver dramatic aerial views of Southern tornado damage; will the FAA crack down?


Screen shots of drone footage from Mayflower, Ark., and Bessemer, Ala. (YouTube)

In the aftermath of the destructive tornadoes that struck Mayflower, Ark. and Bessemer, Ala. Sunday and Monday,  unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, were dispatched to survey the damage.

These aircraft provide unparalleled, sweeping views of the twisters’ wreckage:

Here’s the video from Mayflower, Ark.:

And here’s the video from Bessemer, Ala.:

As useful as such footage may be for assessing and reporting the scope of damage  and identifying where assistance may be required following tornadoes, drone flight raises security and safety concerns from the standpoint of the Federal Aviation Adminstration (FAA).

Link: FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Fact Sheet

piece in Forbes by Greg Neal today notes the FAA technically prohibits such drone flight, but that there is some ambiguity in the specific rules. He alludes to a looming face-off between the FAA and first amendment advocates.

“As drone technology continues to spread into the hands of more journalists we can expect to see more questions raised about how far the FAA’s authority extends, and what happens when that claimed authority intersects with First Amendment rights,” Neal writes.

Related: Drones could revolutionize weather forecasts, but must overcome safety concerns | FAA advances plan to put drones in U.S. skies; six test sites to be selected

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.
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