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Burning Man debuts new rules, pilot limits for drones, RC craft

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As the popularity of radio-controlled aircraft and drones rises, so too does the number of large public events adopting rules covering their use. No exception is the Burning Man organization, which hosts the annual week-long counterculture gathering in Nevada's Black Rock Desert each August.

The event attracts nearly 70,000 people from around the world who enjoy the extreme art, music, social freedom and "radical self-reliance" in the inhospitable heat and dust.

On Wednesday, Burning Man officials released new regulations for drone and radio-controlled (RC) vehicle use at this year's event. The controls are intended to help find a balance between "respecting participant privacy and safety and allowing people to bring new technologies out to the event," according to Burning Man spokesperson Jim Graham.

This year's regulations include requirements that all radio-controlled vehicles fly no higher than 400 feet, avoid spectators, skydivers, and other vehicles and give right of way to full-scale aircraft. The rules also outline a number of strict no-fly zones, including the event's entry and exit roads, Center Camp, the Esplanade, and anywhere near the Man or the Temple before or during their burns.

In addition, first-person-view flying is prohibited, and all drones must be registered with the organization in order to fly during the event. Registration will be limited to 200 pilots, and registration closes on August 15.

All rules and registration can be found at the Black Rock City Municipal Airport website.

According to Graham, the controls came from summits with RC vehicle owners beginning in 2013, when more than 100 pilots met with officals to discuss issues relating to having RC craft at the event.

"The vast majority of participants who flew at the event [in 2013] were great, but we had a handful of incidents where vehicles crashed and nearly hit participants," Graham explained. "For 2014, the airport team took oversight of the program and did a lot of research into what the FAA and other organizations were considering when it came to operating RC aircraft in populated areas. As a result, we made some changes and clarified some of the initial guidelines so that folks can fly at the event and that it can be done in a safe manner."

At the conclusion of this year's event, organizers will review policies and likely tweak them to help them keep the balance between privacy and technology.

"Last year was our first year doing this, and afterward we made some adjustments," Graham said. "After the event concludes this year, we'll look at it again and see how things worked out."

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