New Burning Man Drones Policy

(Photo by Mike Muench)

(Photo by Mike Muench)

You’ll likely be seeing fewer drones flying over Black Rock City this year. The new policy (registration opens today) allows for a small number that can be used for media coverage, event operations, art documentation and art performance.

The decision wasn’t made lightly. We’ve had drones at the event for at least three years and, after they first appeared, we called a Drone Summit to bring together enthusiasts to crowdsource how we’d address what we expected to be growing interest in flying them at BRC.

Our guess proved correct and by 2014 we registered more than 200 pilots (and had a waiting list). Coming out of the Drone Summit, we worked with participants to craft the rules for flying, which included:

  • No flying over the populated sections of BRC
  • No flying close to artwork
  • No flying over crowds
  • And no flying over burns.

Pilots had to pre-register, show up on site, complete their registration, take a brief training course, and then have their drones tagged.

Unfortunately, despite everything done, we still had drones flying over the Embrace and Man burns, drones flew over the city, over large gatherings of people, and drones flew too close to artwork. In one case a video that included several rule violations went viral. Drone pilots who played by the rules felt they were penalized for doing it right.

But of greatest concern were the uncontrolled crashes. We received several reports of drones going out of control and crashing. And we reviewed video of two in particular that went out of control and crashed, both very near groups of people.

Burning Man is an ongoing experiment, and our relationship with drones is one facet of that. Based on our experiences from last year, the Bureau of Land Management proposed banning drones entirely from the event. That was unacceptable to us, and we countered with the scaled back policy that’s being announced today.

You can find the full policy on the Drones page (as well as the application form for 2015). In essence we are taking applications for drones in four categories: media coverage, event operations, art documentation and art performance. Applications begin today and close August 14. While media coverage and event operations are largely self-explanatory, the other two categories might require more info. Art documentation is reserved for art projects that would benefit from use of a drone, either during construction or more generally for documenting the artwork. Art performance is set aside for individuals using a drone as an integral part of an on -playa performance (we had one of these registered last year).

In essence, this new policy eliminates hobbyist flying at the event this year. We will be revisiting the policy post-event and consider changes for 2016. Personal drones won’t be confiscated at the Gate, but any unregistered drone flown in BRC runs the risk of being confiscated and the pilot cited and possibly fined by the BLM.

Drones permitted to fly during the event will be banded with fluorescent tags on the aircraft, control device, and on the approved operator’s wrist. All three bands will be the same color with their registration number on each band.

As with past years, if anyone sees a drone being flown in an unsafe manner, they should talk to the operator if possible. Failing that, get as many details as possible and report it to a Black Rock Ranger.

About the author: Burning Man

Burning Man

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man's Communications Team.

37 Comments on “New Burning Man Drones Policy

  • DMT says:

    This is great news and a well thought-out policy. No doubt it breaks some hearts, but hopefully an outright ban can be avoided next year with a very limited number of operators flying responsibly, safely and with 100% compliance in 2015. That the footage is spectacular (and arguably important) is not in dispute, of course…but we need less drones, NOT more.

    And not just in BRC…

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    • drone guy says:

      Looks like trying to enjoy BM from an aerial perspective is like touring Washington, DC with your lawyer in tow. And I thought this suppose to be a fun time. My Phantom 3 platform weights less than 3 lbs. A real killing machine !! I’ll be staying home, safe and sober this year.r

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  • Tut says:

    I’m all for the new drones rules. These things are dangerous. But if I get a consent form signed, can I fly a drone up my girlfriend’s anus?

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    • In a set of rules to be released later, the Burning Man organizations is setting limitations on anal insertion to no bigger than two fists at the same time.
      The debate over fist size is still under debate, but both fists don’t necessarily need to be from the same person.

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  • Some of the drone footage is spectacular, but I wonder how much of that is the novelty of this type of footage?

    It’s like the “posed cute young girl only wearing fuzzy boots” picture. The first one is interesting, the 4,090,878,974,524,388th is not.

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  • Don says:

    Unfortunately, it’s all rc aircraft that are banned. Not all rc aircraft are drones.

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    • Sparr says:

      What do you think the difference is?

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      • Don says:

        A drone by definition is a vehicle that can be made to be autonomous. An rc vehicle is just that, radio controlled. An rc vehicle can be a drone if equipped.

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    • Sweetie says:

      I wholeheartedly agree. I fly R/C airplanes and I have 9 or 10 – 1 of which would be classified as a UAV (or “Drone”) because it can be flown much further than my Line Of Sight due to a live video feed from the airplane and an onboard Flight Controller that can, if desired or needed, fly the plane or return it to the takeoff location. R/C airplanes have been flying at BRC for YEARS. Have you ever heard of an R/C plane crashing at BRC? Have you ever heard of ANYONE complaining about an R/C plane flying at BRC??

      It wasn’t until about 2012, due to the sudden availability of cheap “Buy and Fly” Multi Rotors, or “Drones”, that flying R/C aircraft at BRC became an issue. Why? They are NOISEY. When they have a problem they drop from the sky like a brick (with multiple spinning BLADES that can cause serious injury). They have the stigma of invading people’s privacy and the public’s perception of the word “Drone”. They are available relatively cheaply in “Buy and Fly” configuration with a GPS enabled, stabilized Flight Controller that enables a first time flyer to take it out of the box, charge the battery, and fly it – with ZERO experience, training, or a clue to how dangerous it can be in their hands. These people mostly don’t read the instructions, know how their aircraft operates or understand the dangers, and tend to fly with the false sense of security provided by a Flight Controller that flies it for them – right up to the point when they do something stupid or something fails and someone gets hurt.

      The vast majority of R/C Airplane pilots have invested huge amounts of time and money learning to build and fly aircraft that don’t have the “crutch” of a Flight Controller and in doing so spend countless hours climbing the steep learning curve it takes to successfully fly at all. I had thousands of flights and hundreds of hours in the air before I had developed the knowledge and skill required to build my first UAV Airplane, which flew many times without incident or complaint, over BRC in 2013. My current UAV Plane has 50+ flights and 30 or so hours in the air, mostly over the open water of San Francisco Bay, with zero incidents and zero complaints. It has flown from San Francisco to Oakland (and back). It has flown from Treasure Island to Alcatraz Island, Fort Mason, and Fisherman’s Wharf (and back). The comments from the general public when I fly? “WOW!! That’s an amazing plane”, “That’s totally COOL!” “How do you fly it”, etc. NEVER a complaint, NEVER anyone concerned about their privacy (even though it has THREE cameras aboard!).

      The injustice here is that BM has chosen to group pilots of planes (MOSTLY highly experienced, safety conscious, and have never caused crashes, noise or privacy complaint issues at BRC) with the Multi Rotor pilots who MOSTLY have little to no experience and hover noisey, dangerous aircraft (“Drones”) over crowds of people who (rightly so) consider them dangerous, intrusive, and annoying.

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  • Niels says:

    Personally, I find this a massive shame and a big downer on what was one of my best experiences last year. As a registered drone operator last year, I managed to gift a huge amount of aerial images to fellow burners, and I made lasting connections and friends through helping with the first live stream from a drone at burning man. We flew responsibly, we added to the enjoyment of many people, and made deep connections through sharing out love for this hobby. It’s a real shame that the Borg is cracking down on this. It’s difficult to not see this as a immature lashing out at the fact that a small minority of the operators didn’t follow the rules perfectly.

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  • jerid says:

    What about flying outside of the burn limit, is that ok?

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    • Don says:

      No flying at all. Whether it’s multicopter, fixed wing or helos unless you have one of the thirty permits.

      Report comment

    • Don says:

      No flying at all. Whether it’s multicopter, fixed wing or helos unless you have one of the thirty permits.

      Here’s the verbiage from the source,

      Per the stipulations, drones and RC aircraft are not permitted at Burning Man or within the closure order area except for the following: media coverage, event operations, art documentation and art performance.

      Here’s the BLM Verbiage of it,

      m) Unmanned Aircraft Systems:
      (1) The use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is prohibited, unless the operator is registered through and complies with the Remote Control BRC program (RCBRC) and operates the UAS in accordance with Federal laws and regulations.
      (2) Definit io n:
      (i) Unmanned aircraft means an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.
      (ii) An unmanned aircraft system is the unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the unmanned aircraft.

      Don.

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  • Nunya says:

    How about sharing the videos of those two drone crashes because otherwise I’m calling flat out bullshit. You’re making up an excuse to shut down yet another non-problem. Your what-ifs are only actually serious if you can point to examples and say I told you so, so now we’re told with zero proof that there were dangerous crashes just like you predicted.

    Share the videos since you flat out stated you have them and you own the rights to all video taken at the burn

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  • eucalypso says:

    YES. best burn ever. No lasers, drones, or EDM! Can we ban LEDs next? And generators! and RVs!

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  • toy helicopter says:

    I’ve seen a number of these stupid fad toys flying around different festivals this year. How do I know who is running it? Perhaps it’s police filming a crowd where open drug use might happen, how are we to know?
    If you buy a drone, you are encouraging acceptance of the surveillance state.
    Not to mention that BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ sound is horrid.

    IF YOU FILM ME, I don’t consent to my image being shown on line.

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    • Michael B says:

      How do you know? No more than you know who is holding up a mobile device recording. Even at a private event, it is a public space, so your consent is not an actual legal requirement.

      Why do you automatically ASSUME nefarious intent and police usage. If you had the least bit of technical understanding, you would realize that these things are not feasible for any kind of surveillance or spying, so please stop the ignorant fear mongering.

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  • Mark says:

    Wouldn’t Media Coverage be a Commercial Activity, and isn’t this forbidden by the FAA Drone rules? How is Media getting an exemption to this rule?

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  • Mark says:

    In fact, I would add that use for “Event Operations” would also be illegal under FAA Drone rules, unless BMORG files for an FAA Section 333 Exemption to operate them.

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  • Scuba says:

    I’ve got an idea for a compromise that will keep everything sporting … prohibit drones, allow shotguns

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    • Michael B says:

      Your idea entail a felony which makes it illegal to damage or destroy an aircraft. Several idiots that had this same ‘idea’ have already gone to jail for it.

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  • Disco says:

    I think “event operations” is a euphemism for “Police spying on the citizens”. Right? Right. We saw undercover cops flying a drone over a sunrise party at Mayan Warrior early Friday morning before the burn victim burn (I mean Embrace, sorry). They were clearly cops spying on us, and it was a big downer. Why is this allowed? I’m sure this year there will be dozens of drones flying all day and all night directly over crowds under the excuse of “event operations” by police. The whole event is turning into a cat and mouse game. No wonder all the streets have turned into walls of RVs, nobody wants to be spied on by undercover cops with their IR cameras. We come to Burning Man to get away from cops, not be under their magnifying glasses 24/7. This situation needs to be dealt with or it will ruin the event. No more pussyfooting with spineless sayings like “We love the cops, they’re here for our protection and safety”. That’s BS. Tell it like it is: The cops are here because they want to look at naked girls while busting heads to make money, and they’re helping to extort millions of dollars from us in the form of BLM and other fees that are passed on to us in the ticket price. They are leeches plain and simple, and they are destroying the collective psyche. BRC is probably the safest, lowest crime city in the USA. We don’t need 500 rangers with night scopes and drones spying on us constantly.

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  • alberth says:

    This is a shame. Aerial videos were beautiful offering a majestic view of the event from a vantage not seen before. It shouldn’t be just media that can make those clips, and thereby have exclusive shots of BM. Others should be able to make them too. If training or inspection like DMV for vehicles is needed, then do that. Banning is f’d up.

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  • Cunty McCunterson says:

    Way to censor my comments, shitbags.

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  • Logan says:

    I will shoot any drone over my camp.

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  • Kiwijay says:

    I’ve spent 3k this year on a drone I had only intended to take to burningman. If you had 200 applications then what about issuing day permits instead of to only 30 people FFS. So utterly disappointed in this.

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    • Michael B says:

      Well you are the reason these things are so restricted. If you only intended to take it there, then I doubt you have developed the level of skill necessary to task load and operate these things. In such an environment, you need to ALREADY be an expert.

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  • Cl says:

    People love to complain about this and that, so easy… If you don’t like the rules and the decisions made, then stop coming to burning man, each burn is different and it will never be the same as the previous year(s), it is a fact and deal with it! If you can’t deal with it then sell your ticket for someone who will! I am sure there are a lot of reasons for why you want to come to the Playa that are not related to drones so why don’t you just focus on that?! A lot of my friends could not make it this year, and then I read comments like these and I am sorry but I hope you didn’t get a ticket because you suck, and really don’t want to meet people like you at BM. But if you did get a ticket then it is a waste! Sorry for my English, I am traveling all the way from France to go to BM for the 5th time and let me tell you, I know already that I will have a hell of a time, drones or not, bugs or not. One sure thing, the man will burn and the dust will be there as well as some amazing people and art, and this is why I am going! I am sure people will answer to my comments to complain, but guess what? I won’t read it I will already be there… )'(

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