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U.S. agency investigating drone flights after video goes viral

By Travis Reed

FORT LAUDERDALE Fla. (Reuters) - The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating several videos filmed using drones that flew into and around firework displays, including two apparently shot on the Fourth of July and one from Florida that has received nearly nine million YouTube views.

The agency this week confirmed at least three investigations into camera-equipped drones believed to have taken footage in Nashville, Tennessee, Greenville, South Carolina and West Palm Beach, Florida.

The video that went viral features eight minutes of dramatic fireworks close-ups, with projectiles almost hitting the camera. It was posted in May, but quickly gained attention around Independence Day.

Drones have been largely regulated at the federal level by the FAA, but an administrative law judge in March found the agency had no jurisdiction. The FAA is appealing, and last month issued guidance for the public reiterating its authority.

“Certainly this is a rapidly evolving technology, so people are finding innovative uses for unmanned aircraft on a regular basis,” FAA spokesman Les Dorr said.

The Florida video was credited to Jos Stiglingh and quickly gained popularity after being cut, branded and reposted by the camera company GoPro. Neither Stiglingh nor GoPro returned messages left by Reuters.

A message sent via YouTube to the person who posted the South Carolina video was not returned. The owner of the Nashville drone also did not return a message seeking comment.

FAA guidelines allow drones for recreational use if they weigh less than 55 pounds and remain under 400 feet, within the operator’s sight, and at least five miles away from an airport.

Drone expert Missy Cummings, director of Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Lab, said drone flights near fireworks increased the chance of crashes, but posed little public risk.

“You’re not allowed to shoot fireworks over people anyway, because of the damage from debris fallout,” Cummings said. “Generally the area underneath is safe, and these are very small drones that weigh a couple of pounds."

(Editing by David Adams and Tom Brown)

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