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.