You’ve seen the stunning imagery — smoke billowing above a raging fire, the aftermath of an incredible highway pileup, or neighborhoods devastated by flooding.

Drone video is suddenly everywhere.

The video above, which aired at a former TV employer of mine during a major industrial fire in Buffalo, New York, is a perfect example of drone footage that can help add details words simply can’t provide.

The reason drone footage is becoming more prevalent is simple — drones are more accessible and cheaper.

But before you send a photographer out to buy one with an expectation that game-changing images will soon follow, understand there are a host of regulations on newsrooms (and all other commercial entities, for that matter).

Christine Walz, left, and Charles Tobin of Holland & Knight, LLP. (Photos courtesy of
Christine Walz, left, and Charles Tobin of Holland & Knight, LLP. (Photos courtesy of

Here’s the good news — before August 29, all commercial drone use, including for journalistic purposes, was banned unless you had a pilot’s license. That essentially knocked most newsrooms out of the skies when it came to newsgathering.

But since that date, the path to getting your drone in the air is easier. Not simple, but easier.

During a recent installment of the GateHouse Professional Development Series, attorneys Charles Tobin and Christine Walz from Holland & Knight, LLP, explained the process for newsrooms to get their drones flying.

By taking the Aeronautical Knowledge Exam, you can now be fully certified to fly a drone for commercial purposes.

Click play to hear Tobin, a former reporter, talk(via telephone) about the new exam and how the rules have changed:


So what does it take to get this new license?

According to Walz:

• You must be over 16 years old

• You must be vetted by the TSA (security)

• You must be able to read, speak and understand English to take the exam

• You must certify that you are in physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone

For a list of test sites, click here.

The test costs $150 to take, and isn’t easy, according to those who have taken it. Here’s a link to a practice test and some tips on studying for the exam.

(Side note: Newsrooms can accept drone video from outside contributors, as long as the newsrooms were not part of the planning process for the drone video capture.)

Once you’ve passed the test and you’ve purchased your drone, where exactly can you fly? That will be the second part of our series, coming soon to



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