FAA investigation finds Connecticut drone journalist was flying safely and legally
In February 2014, a freelance videographer reporting on a fatal car accident in Hartford, Conn., was was told by police to land his small drone and leave the scene of the crash. The station he was working for, WFSB, then fired the reporter after being contacted several times by Hartford police.
As reported previously on DroneJournalism.org, data from the drone’s geotagged images indicated the video journalist Pedro Rivera was flying approximately 150 horizontal feet from the accident. Around the time Rivera was operating his DJI Phantom drone, news crews with zoom-lenses also showed up, and were able to obtain much closer images of the fatal wreck than Rivera.
It was later reported that the Federal Aviation Administration was investigating the incident. Today, thanks to a FOIA request filed by Conn. television station FoxCT, we now know that investigation concluded on June 6, and did not find any evidence of reckless flying by Rivera.
In a direct message, Rivera said he was unaware that the FAA was looking into his drone flight, and the FAA never contacted him. But he said he wasn’t bothered by the possibility of an investigation.
“I was never concerned about the FAA because at this specific time they had no legal power or law that concerned me,” Rivera said.
The FAA investigator also determined that Rivera was not operating his drone commercially, which would have likely required special certification and a pilot’s license. This finding, in particular, could be important to drone journalists in the United States if it serves as proof that drone journalism is not automatically considered a commercial application.
Rivera has not worked for WFSB since the day of the incident, but said he has still found work in his field. His lawsuit with the City of Hartford, concerning police pressure that allegedly led to his firing, is ongoing.
On Feb. 24, the Professional Society of Drone Journalists published a statement supporting Rivera, and condemning the actions of the Hartford Police in this incident.
Below are copies of the FAA investigation, released by FoxCT.