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Missouri Journalism School to Seek Drone Permit

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(Photo credit: missouridronejournalism.com)

(Photo credit: missouridronejournalism.com)

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - The journalism schools at the University of Missouri and University of Nebraska-Lincoln plan to ask the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to resume using aerial drones for news-gathering purposes, school officials said.

The FAA ordered the universities in July to stop flying the drones outdoors until they obtain government authorization. Scott Pham, content director for Missouri’s university-owned radio station KBIA-FM, said the school will apply for a federal permit known as a certificate of authorization. Nebraska journalism professor Matt Waite has said the school also plans to seek the permit.

“There are so many unanswered questions about using drones for journalism that it hardly makes sense to stop now,” Waite wrote in an open letter in response to the grounding of the drones

Waite and Pham said they are optimistic they will eventually receive the permits, but are discouraged that the permits will restrict their ability to use the remote-controlled aircraft to gather news in a timely fashion. The permit requires applicants to indicate in advance where they wish to operate, which would make responding to breaking news impractical.

The crackdown came as unmanned drones move from the battlefield to civilian and commercial use. Missouri and Nebraska were relying on rules for amateur hobbyists’ use of remote-controlled model airplanes, but the FAA considers the university a public operator similar to local police departments.

Under amateur rules, unmanned aircraft must stay under 400 feet and conduct flights away from populated areas. The more restrictive rules would require the university to designate a smaller area of up to two square miles while providing proof of the airworthiness of each vehicle.

In late October, drone researchers will meet in Lincoln for a drone journalism conference at the university. Participants include privacy, legal and ethics experts. The weekend event also includes an indoor drone demonstration.

Journalism researchers and their students were using the airborne robots to shoot aerial photos and video from difficult-to-reach news scenes. The Missouri School of Journalism program had produced stories on bird migration, archaeological excavations and the use of Missouri River water for fracking operations in North Dakota.

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