Photojournalist defends newsgathering drone in court

The firs lawsuit over "unmanned air vehicles" appeared in the cantonal court in Rotterdam on Thursday. The court must determine whether photographer Roel Dijkstra "participated in the air traffic with a model aircraft" without permission from Rotterdam Airport.

On July 17th, 2013 Dijkstra was present at a crime scene near his home in Vlaardingen - a man had stabbed his stepson to death in a home on the second floor of a gallery flat. An officer noticed a drone hovering in front of the gallery for two or three minutes.

Dijkstra had built the drone with a camera underneath himself that spring. He swears that he did not take any pictures with it on the date in question. "I was still in the experimental phase, to discover what drones can mean for journalism. I demonstrated my drone to a colleague from SBS."

The rules for drones were tightened at the beginning of that month, but Dijkstra claims not to have known. "As a professional user you must have all kinds of certificates. As a hobbyist you can do everything, but if you want to earn from it, you're not allowed anything. All drones between zero and 125 kilograms and from zero to 128 kilometers per hour are now lumped together. I understand that there must be rules, but this is nonsense. I can land my drone of no more than 1.5 kilos on an upturned bucket."

Fred Bijlsma, the national coordinating prosecutor for aviation, is relentless. "The use on anmanned aerial vehicles is increasing. Requirements are made for that. You can not put people or businesses in danger, do not fly over crowds, public roads and railways."  If you want to fly in a air traffic control zone, you must make arrangement with the local air traffic control. According to Bijlsma, Dijskstra's drone flew in such an area. "There was a trauma helicopter in the air. It can be dangerous if a drone is suddenly flying around. If permission was granted, the trauma helicopter could have been warned."

Dijkstra thinks that it is nonsense that he has to ask for permission weeks in advance. "I can't know weeks a head that there will be a fire. My drone is an extended tripod. A stick of thirty meters is allowed."

So far this year Bijlsma handled 15 drone cases which ended in settlement. Dijkstra's is the first case to appear in court. The court will rule on December 23rd.