Burning Man Director Flaunts Flouting of Safety Rules

In theory, we live in a democratic society, based on a system of justice. There are rules, and if you break them you can be punished. If enough people don’t like the rules – or the rulers – they can be changed.

Off-Duty-Miami-Drone-CartoonUnfortunately, the Default world contains corruption. Someone wealthy, yet guilty, can break the rules and get away with it. Thus we see OJ Simpson beating a murder rap and walking free despite losing the civil trial, Michael Jackson beating a pedophilia rap and continuing to sleep in his bed with young children, Wall Street execs fleecing their shareholders and the government, banks laundering hundreds of billions for organized crime syndicates…and we see no-one jailed. We see government operations providing weapons to drug cartels that result in the death of their own agents, and nobody gets in trouble. Our political leaders get caught again and again in bold-faced lies, and nothing changes. Still, though, every 4 years, we get elections, we get a chance for something to be different.

Not so with Burning Man. It’s a corporate dictatorship, not a civil democracy. No matter that the entire economic value of the event is created by its citizens. We pay the money, we bring the spectacle which makes the event something they can charge $400 a ticket for. Because of the contributions of art and music and fashion and theatrics that Burners make, Commodification Camps can charge $17,000/head to jetsetting tourists. Don’t like it? Shut up and don’t go.

“There needs to be rules”, says BMOrg. “It’s not anarchy”.

Fair enough. But if the rules are enforced selectively, it’s no longer a free society. It’s tyranny. A system of rewarding czars and their cronies, while oppressing regular citizens. You think the Emir of Dubai has to obey speed limits? You think members of Congress can be prosecuted for insider trading? Do diplomats have to pay parking fines? Hell no, the rules that apply to everyone, don’t apply to the Special Ones who rule us.

Here is a recent example of this involving a Burning Man Project Director, who is using Playa footage to advertise one of his brands.

Chip Conley‘s Fest300 featured a drone video of Burning Man 2014. You may have seen it, since it’s been heavily promoted on the Interwebz:

2011 christopher olewnik chopper

Burners Baffled By Blackhawk. Photo: C Olewnik

The problem is, there are all sorts of rules for operating drones in Black Rock City. There was a permit limit of 200 civilian drones this year, as well as a range of different government spying technologies, that may have included aerial or space monitoring. Military aircraft were spotted overhead, as they are every year.

It seems that this drone, shooting footage for the Burning Man Director’s festival business, didn’t just break the rules, they went on to flaunt their disregard for them by promoting this video. Safety be damned! Leadership by example be damned! One of the bigwigs has a web site to promote!

What rules were broken? From what we can see, at least:

  • filming for commercial purposes (advertising Fest300 at both the start and end of the video)
  • hovering over people/camps  (eg 0:21, 1:24, 1:40, 2:06, 2:55)
  • altitude less than 400 ft (eg 0:21)
  • flying within 25 feet of people (eg 0:33, 0:51, 1:08, 1:19, 1:21, 1:38, 1:51, 2:06, 2:20, 2:28, 2:50)
  • flying within 100 feet of art (eg 0:09, 0:27, 0:48, 0:51, 1:19, 1:35, 1:51, 2:10)
  • flying within 100 feet of ground vehicles (1:05, 1:08, 2:28, 2:50, 3:08)
  • flying near the Temple (1:31)
  • flying within 100 feet of heavy equipment (1:47)
  • flying at The Man after pyrotechnic setup (1:57)

Now I’m no expert, but to my untrained eye that looks like 33 violations in a 3:33 video, plus the overall violation of it being used commercially to promote the Burning Man Project Director’s site.

doi have consent droneIt’s hard to say if the pilot was flying the drone by remote control, or First Person View. Many of the shots are cut just before evidence of a violation can be seen – like flying over the Esplanade or Center Camp. It is impossible to prove from the footage whether the drone kept going, or suddenly stopped in mid-air. Nor can we tell how long it hovered over the camps it was spying on. The impression I get is of avoiding rule violations in the editing, rather than the piloting.

The video was uploaded by Fest300, who strangely disabled comments on it. Did they suspect there might be some criticism of their blatant disregard for Burning Man’s drone rules? Perhaps they knew that the dangerous flying would be considered controversial by some.

It was also promoted by GoPro. They have since taken the video down, but there were some comments left. From Google+:

Firefly: please dont promote such inconsiderate flying. The pilot broke most of the AMA, FAA and RC rules of Burning Man as seen in this utube. Video examples of bad flying promote others to fly badly too. Do your part by not rewarding or praising such careless lawless flying. Be part of the solution, not the cause.

EasyMZM: Do not promote this extremely irresponsible video. The pilot is not only in violation of virtually every official rule for flying drones at Burning Man, but also appears to lack basic common sense and/or experience flying drones. Total disregard for the safety of others is not something you want to associate your brand with.

Matthew: When you come to realize that this could be the last drone video ever shot at this and other events like it, I suspect you’ll start giving a fuck. Perhaps it’ll take a drone blade to your face, or your family’s and friends face for you to realize your ignorance.

the pilot of the drone is breaking the law in ways that will have reverberations for future users. They’re essentially bragging about patent disregard of the rules, and when the BLM comes in to confiscate all the drones, this video will be case study number one why they’re overreacting. There were many drone pilots who followed the rules and got great footage, and they will be hurt because of this. Immaturity and disrespect….it goes a long way in the wrong direction.

People are uptight about innocent bystanders getting slashed in the face with assholes’ propellers. PLENTY of people followed these rules:http://88nv.burningman.com/drones-rc/ but this jackass will ruin it for many others

Don: I think he broke most of those rules. But the results are spectacular. I wonder if this drone operator will get certification next time? 
Even with all due diligence accidents happen as in the lady burner who lost her life in an incident with a mutant vehicle. I do appreciate this goes beyond Black Rock city to the FAA and other authorities who could make things difficult for the Burningman organization if rules are flagrantly and publicly (as in in this vid ) broken. I hope it gets worked out as this is a new dimension to the documenting of this amazing event

Perhaps Chip Conley didn’t pilot the drone himself, members of his sherpa team flew the UAV, edited the footage, added the Fest300 advertising, and uploaded it to YouTube. Does relying on sherpas mean it’s fine to break the rules? Would Burning Man allow such a flagrant, in-your-face violation of Federal regulations by a regular Burner? Or does this guy get a pass because he’s on the Board of Directors?

Selective enforcement. We must follow the rules. Insiders get a pass.

Burners.Me commercials with iMax Playa footage…”coming soon”.

As a contrast, check out this video from Camp Shady Waffle. When you see people in this video, they are waving at the drone as it flies away from them, not cycling unaware as the drone swoops down on them from behind, fast and at low altitude. I saw a couple of possible rule violations, but it is not all the way through the video, in practically every shot, like the Fest300 promotional video is.

A great interview here with the Stanford student behind the Shady drone.

Mr Queso requested more drone videos, ask and ye shall receive:

from http://88nv.burningman.com/drones-rc/  (emphasis ours)

Burning Man’s 2014 Policy and Registration for
Remote Control Aircraft in and around Black Rock City (RCBRC)


The rising popularity of remote control (RC) aircraft including: fixed wing planes, helicopters, multicopters aka “drones” or unmanned aerial vehicles, presents many challenges at the Burning Man event. Black Rock City, LLC’s (BRC’s) mission is for RC activity to proceed in the safest manner possible, while also respecting the privacy rights of participants.

Like mutant vehicles, BRC regulates all RC aircraft and requires that they be operated responsibly, and subject to restricted fly zones and other rules of operation. BRC has an established RC community, which has stepped forward to collaborate on creating rules and recommendations based upon The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) safety code.

Restrictions include, but are not limited to:

  1. Flying sufficient distance away from populated (city blocks, theme camps, etc.), low noise tolerance (the Temple!) or other sensitive areas (including Burns and the Man)
  2. Avoid flying near spectators until aircraft tested/flown previously.
  3. Flying no higher than 400 feet above ground.
  4. If within 5 miles of an airport: notification of the airport operator. (Registration satisfies this requirement.)
  5. Avoid flying in proximity of, and give right-of-way to, full-scale aircraft.

Rules of Operation

  1. Maximum altitude allowed per FAA is 400 feet above ground.
  2. Only visual line of sight flying per FAA, no long distance flying.
  3. No First Person View flying (flying based upon video stream not direct sight).
  4. Secure a safe place to take off, land, and emergency land.
  5. Fly when possible with a spotter to help control on-lookers, etc.
  6. Keep 100 feet horizontal separation away from all perimeter fences / trash fence.
  7. Keep 100 feet horizontal separation away from EMS, Police, Fire Department vehicles and their camp locations.
  8. Keep 100 feet horizontal separation away from all heavy equipment and work crews.
  9. Keep 100 feet horizontal separation away from all ground vehicles, artwork, sculptures, guidewires, kites, tethered aviation, etc.
  10. Avoid flying over or close to people, AMA recommendations are horizontal separation of 25 feet at least.
  11. Immediately land if skydivers are seen overhead.  You may resume flight after they have landed.
  12. No operating RC aircraft while intoxicated.  If you are deemed intoxicated to the point that you are “illegal to drive” you may not fly.
  13. No use of ham bands including 433, 600, 900 MHz and 1.3 GHz unless a current Technician, General, or Amateur Extra License is shown.
  14. No amplified systems, for example:  Dragonlink.
  15. If a pilot is acting in an unsafe manner either law enforcement or the Black Rock Rangers have the authority to confiscate the controller/transmitter and transfer it to Lost and Found and RCBRC notified.
  16. If a crashed craft is found it will be transferred to Lost and Found and RCBRC notified.
  17. Aircraft confiscated for flying unsafely, recklessly or in violation of rules will be held at Lost and Found until the end of the event or the participant/pilot permanently departs from the event.
  18. Unclaimed aircraft will be subject to ordinary Lost & Found procedures of Black Rock City via Playa Info. BRC is not responsible for unclaimed aircraft.

Flying Prohibited During The Following Conditions

  1. During strong winds
  2. During dust storms
  3. Inside of or from the top/side of any architecture/structures
  4. From a moving vehicle
  5. Hovering over people, personal living space (tents, RVs, shower stalls, fenced off camps, etc).
  6. Night flights must have adequate navigation lights per AMA rules.

Flying Prohibited At The Following Locations

  1. Entry and exit roads leading into BRC
  2. Center camp
  3. Esplanade
  4. Inside The Man safety ring
  5. The Man after it closes for pyrotechnical set-up
  6. Temple Burn
  7. Airport restrictions (see below)
  8. Incident Command (Law Enforcement & Emergency Services Area)

No Flying At Or Near BRC Municipal Airport (88NV)

  • No flying at 88NV including the 88NV camping area, terminal, ramp/tie-down, and runways unless direct face-to-face permission is given by the Air Commander, Airport Safety Officer, or Runway Manager during airport operation hours (dawn-twilight).
  • No flying from the last named street that surrounds BRC over walk-in campground to the trash fence/perimeter from the radials of 2:00 to 6:00 (dependent upon location of airport being at 5:00 or 5:30) during airport operation hours (dawn-twilight) unless direct face-to-face permission is given by the Air Commander, Airport Safety Officer, or Runway Manager.

Other Conditions

Please be aware that there are other rules and laws that may affect operations of an RC aircraft. For example, using an RC aircraft to photograph or videotape someone without their permission or for commercial purposes is not authorized under BRC’s Ticket Terms and Conditions. Intentionally or negligently injuring persons or property with an RC aircraft could lead to criminal assault and or battery charges. Interfering with airport operations is a federal crime. Be mindful of all laws, rules and regulations when operating an RC aircraft, and use common sense. If RC aircraft are operated unsafely then they will be subject to further regulation and restrictions in the future. Help make BRC a place where RC aircraft are a valued part of the community.

40 comments on “Burning Man Director Flaunts Flouting of Safety Rules

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  12. Very cool video , way too much hype over it ,and way too many rules !!I guess if you have something to hide you should be concern !!

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  16. That must be why they disabled the comment option for their youtube video, pathetic move if you can’t be open to honesty. But for real, that video sucked ass. It did nothing to show off the art installations, the mutant cars, the people, the vibes, the amount of LED’s that occur throughout the night, the fires on all the wooden art. Ugh..considering all the hype, this was a complete let down. Congrats, you made people look like ants. Congrats, you showed off how many cars and RV’s were set up. And good job, you did a drive by on what…4 large art sculptures.. ugh..thumbs down.

  17. We realized we might have some unacceptable footage in our video and have replaced it with

    We apologize for the oversight; we were very aware of the rules and tried our best to follow them — some mistakes slipped through. <3 Shady Waffle

    • You mean…some bits were a bit shady? LOL No worries, I replaced the link. Can you tell us a bit about the way you used your drone at Burning Man. Did you fly it every day? At night? What were some of the safety issues you encountered?

    • Who watches the watchers?
      I am glad that this web site does and I am optimistic that the contributions made here will help make BM better in the future, yet still waiting BMOrg comments on the topics so many are talking about, but the BMOorg remain silent?

  18. It seems Camp Shady Waffle makes every same violation you site (flying over people, burns, close to camps, esplanade), including an giant advertisement to Cameralends who rents DJI Phantoms…. Ummm dual standard anyone?

    • giant advertisement? Just looks like credits. I see nothing wrong with credits, in fact I disagree with Larry harvey’s idea that artists at Burning Man shouldn’t sign their work. I also see nothing wrong with commerical advertisements with BM footage – just the double standard. If Burning Man directors can do it for their companies, we should all be able to do it for ours too.

  19. I don’t see any major violations here. Every drone video ever shot at Burning Man violates several of these “rules”, every BM video violates someone’s privacy.

    Besides “‘The “laws” and AMA/FAA stuff are “recommendations”. Class G air space (under 400 ft craft under 55 lbs) is regulated by nothing/no one. Period. ” So who cares? Burning Man has never been safe.

    This video is beautiful and so are the flamethrowers, mutant cars, exploding art and 1,000,000 other ways to painfully die happy at Burning Man

  20. I’m not versed in the regulations regarding drones, so I won’t comment on that. I will comment on the fact that Chip Conley, who is on the Burning Man Project board of directors and is very friendly with Larry & Co., hence should be well versed in the 10 principles, is blatantly using Burning Man to promote his company. And the BMORG has to be well aware of this, if not openly approving it. As you say, different yolks for different folks.

  21. After reading the article and then watching the video, I was unimpressed….the distance to structures/people was more than 25 ft away (except perhaps the temple) and overall I was not upset by this…yes, everyone must play by the same rules, and really? Sorry, I was prepared to be mortified….just 2 cents.

    • the rules say 100 feet of horizontal separation from structures. There is one shot where the drone is zooming up behind people on bikes, it looks closer than 25 feet to me.

  22. And this is why the DJI Phantom is such a problem~ Take it from a professional UAV pilot that people like this are NOT the majority of UAV pilots out there. Also, the “laws” and AMA/FAA stuff are “recommendations”. Class G air space (under 400 ft craft under 55 lbs) is regulated by nothing/no one. Period. Local authorities can make laws, and being that the blackrock is a national park they SHOULD be enforced on people without permits.

    Also, please consider that “spying” at 1080 vertical resolution with a Go pro is ….. well pointless. If you wanted to spy on people with a UAV .. good luck. Even the small ones make a ton of noise. There are much better/easier/more affordable ways to do this.

    • I am always amazed to observe how many people don’t look up, and don’t notice noises, even loud ones.
      Thanks for your feedback. What is the DJI Phantom and why is it such a problem?

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