Drones — or unmanned aircraft systems, as the Federal Aviation Administration refers to them — have been used in the military for years, and, more recently, their civilian cousins have been gaining popularity.
Not many of those drones will be flying on campus, though. The university administration recently signed a policy prohibiting the recreational flying of drones on campus due to the close proximity to the airport.
Emergency management coordinator Barbara Russo drafted the initial policy. After the first draft was complete, the project turned into a collaborative effort among response team members who received input from media relations and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
The policy went before an administrative council for final approval at the end of January, according to Russo.
The Daily Mississippian has reached out to and is continuing to work with the university to obtain a final copy of the policy.
“This is us formally going on record saying, ‘No drones on campus,’” Russo said. “Drones have come down significantly in price, and we know there are a lot out there. With the spring coming up, we just want everybody to be aware that we’re not allowing drones on campus.”
The exception to the no-drone rule includes licensed pilots, who have been approved to fly the drones for educational use or as a staff photographer. Right now, there are only two flyers.
Robert Jordan, director of communications photography, and Ji Hoon Heo, multimedia instructor at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, are the only approved persons to be flying drones on campus.
To fly a drone for work or business, federal guidelines require the pilot to be at least 16 years of age, pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test and a background check by the Transportation Safety Administration.
Both men passed their testing and received licenses in October.
Jordan said the exam covers more than just how to operate a drone and is essentially the same exam a pilot would take without sections on fueling or loading the aircraft sort of questions.
“You have to make a 70 or better to receive a passing grade,” Jordan said. “It covers everything from rules concerning aerials systems operations to understanding runway markings, radio phraseology … It covers everything.”
He said when civilian drones were first starting to become popular, the FAA was scrambling to figure out how to regulate them. Originally, the only requirements included a pilot’s license and a 333 exemption from the FAA, but people were finding loopholes like obtaining hot air balloon licenses.
About a year ago, this new way of becoming licensed came about.
For the testing, Jordan said test-takers are given two hours, a No. 2 pencil, two blank sheets of paper and a protractor.
“I was grateful to get through with only a couple question missed,” Jordan laughed. “That brought a big sigh of relief, let me tell you. It was like being in college all over again.”
Jordan said the communications office uses its UAS intermittently, sometimes using it several times a week and sometimes going several weeks without using it at all.
“It’s another tool in the tool kit to allow me to make photos of Ole Miss,” Jordan said. “Sometimes it’s the best tool for the job, but it’s like anything else – you can kind of overdo it. I use it sparingly when it’s the best option.”
Jordan said technology can be used for good or for ill, and when the technology is used in a bad way, it makes it more difficult for others to utilize it.
“There’s so much potential for something bad to happen that I’d encourage people to go by the policy and adhere to that and not be one of the folks that makes a bad impression or bad reputation for (unmanned aircraft systems),” Jordan said.
Heo said the use of drones, especially on the Ole Miss campus, is very new, so the Meek School has only used the drone on one project so far, and that was during a Study USA class in New Orleans.
The class used the drone to take pictures from 200 feet off the ground, showing images of environmental issues, like dredging from swamps. Heo said a photo taken with a standard camera at ground level would not have been able to show the same image or have the same effect.
Heo also uses the drone to teach journalism innovation, making sure to emphasize the laws and ethics of using drones for journalism.
“Yes, it’s cool, and it’s a really awesome tool for journalists, but how you use it is important,” Heo said. “You don’t want to just use it because it’s cool; you want to use it because it’s innovative and adds depth to a story. We’re trying to use it with a journalistic and ethical mind.”
The use of recreational drones isn’t completely banned in Oxford. The FAA has a free phone application, B4UFLY, that can tell the user whether the location he or she is in, or plans to go to, is a cleared area to fly recreational drones.