FAA Grants Single Photographer Permission to Fly Drone at Standing Rock

FAA Grants Single Photographer Permission to Fly Drone at Standing Rock

After initially refusing to allow Photojournalist Robert Levine permission to use a drone to document the events surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, the FAA has reversed their position, allowing him a three-day waiver.

In a highly controversial decision, the FAA issued a TFR (temporary flight restriction) over the area covered by the protest, which many have argued severely limits the media's ability to cover the events unfolding there and amounts to a government-sanctioned media blackout, thereby enabling unlawful actions. In particular, the FAA's vague justification of the TFR as "law enforcement activity" did little to ease tensions at the site. A TFR issued for the same reasons over Ferguson, MO in 2014 sparked similar outcry.

The TFR over Standing Rock.

After initially denying his request, the FAA has now allowed Robert Levine a three-day waiver to fly his drone there under the usual restrictions (under 400 feet, maintaining line of sight, being in contact with the appropriate authorities, and flying during daylight). This represents a big victory for photojournalism and freedom of the press, as the large scale of the protest makes it difficult to fully capture from the ground. Aerial coverage can significantly augment and clarify the reporting of the events taking place there. It's also a big reminder of the power of photography in shaping world events. 

Lead image by Flickr user Fibonacci Blue, used under Creative Commons.


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Adam Ottke's picture

Wow. I wasn't even aware the FAA created TFRs over areas of protest, etc. I'm not sure if I should think this is actually a great victory or if every other case of such TFRs is indeed something to really worry about. Not good...

Spy Black's picture

This has been done several times, and each time it was for the benefit of an oil company. Some time back an oil pipeline burst, I believe it was Arkansas, and the governor declared a no-fly-zone and total media blackout over the area. There was a similar event elsewhere, back near Louisiana if I remember correctly. Since the BP oil spill, media coverage of oil and gas company mishaps or objections such as Standing Rock have all been blacked out. It wasn't until yesterday when the Army Corps of Engineers declared that the pipeline cannot go through that mainstream media coverage of Standing Rock returned.