“Droning” Over National Parks

“Droning” Over National Parks

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Since I shoot video when I travel and have produced a few TV travel “shorts,” I’ve been intrigued with the idea of using a miniature helicopter, such as the Phantom 2 Vision Drone, to make my own version of  travelogues like “Over Hawaii.”

But there’s one set of places where I won’t be able to do filming from the air: U.S national parks.

And that’s either good or bad news for aspiring filmmakers and park visitors.

As I did yesterday, I often hike at Point Reyes National Seashore, near my home just north of San Francisco. And as was the case yesterday, from time to time during those hikes I hear the distinct sound of commercial jet airliners beginning their descent before landing at one of the San Francisco Bay Area airports.

Many visitors to national parks in the western U.S. come to enjoy the tranquility of the non-urban world where birds, not aircraft, are natural “over-fliers.”

Parks have “soundscapes” as well as landscapes.” And some would argue that aircraft of any type or size should not be permitted to intrude into that soundscape. The controversy over “flightseeing” has been particularly significant at Grand Canyon National Park where getting a bird’s eye-view of the vast park during an airborne tour, as I did a number of years ago, has been popular.

But until recently, unless you held a private pilot’s license and had access to an aircraft which you could fly yourself, you could only enter the airspace over a national park aboard an airliner flying relatively high above it, or closer to the earth on a small plane operated by a tour company.

The advent of relatively inexpensive small camera-toting drones has now made it technically possible for you or I to send our  “eyes,” if not our bodies, soaring over virtually any place on the planet.

The FAA has just banned companies like Amazon.com from using drones to deliver packages to customers, and any drones or model airplanes from being operated with five miles of an airport without permission of the tower, part of a more extensive “Dos” and “Don’ts” list for those wanting to “fly from the ground up.”

In May, Yosemite National Park banned the use of drones within the park’s boundaries. So no more taking “aerial selfies” of yourself, or filming climbers ascending El Capitan. USA Today said drones weren’t permitted to fly in certain other parks.

Back in May, CNN reported that the drone ban applies within all U.S. national parks, but last Friday the Associated Press said that National Park director, Jonathan Jarvis, was going to issue a policy memo “directing superintendents of the service’s 401 parks to write rules prohibiting the launching, landing or operation of unmanned aircraft in their parks.”

The AP story said that

“While parks are changing their individual rules, the park service will be drafting its own rule to ban drone flights in parks nationwide, he said. Jarvis said he hopes to have a proposal ready in about 18 months.”

So for me, the TV producer, having to shelve possible aerial drone filming out at Point Reyes, is a bit disappointing. But since I don’t own anything like a Phantom Vision 2, at least I haven’t shelled out money for a gadget I may never be able to use.

As a national park visitor, the drone ban means that when I’m hiking far from roads, campgrounds or lodges, I’ll be able to enjoy the solitude and near silence of the place, without having anything larger than a bumblebee droning nearby.


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2 Replies to ““Droning” Over National Parks”

  1. Good write up Dick. It is too bad Drones are banned from parks now. I can see both sides as drones such as the DJI Phantom are noisy. Also, there will be some people that will harass wildlife. Hopefully as the technology progresses the UAV / Drones will be quieter and less intrusive. You really can capture amazing photography from the little DJI Phantoms though.

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