Hollywood Drone Approval May Blaze Trail for Farmers: DOT

Score one for Hollywood.

Six movie and television production companies convinced the Federal Aviation Administration that they are capable of safely using drones while filming scenes in the U.S., opening the door to broader commercial use of the unmanned aircraft.

The FAA today said it granted the six companies waivers from regulations on general flight rules, pilot certification and equipment mandates designed for traditional aircraft as long as they meet certain conditions for safety. The agency is working with a seventh company on a similar drone approval and has at least 40 additional waiver requests pending for commercial use of unmanned aerial systems.

“Today’s announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial UAS use while ensuring we maintain our world-class safety record in all forms of flight,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

The companies will be allowed to fly small drones carrying cameras on closed sets. The FAA said the aircraft must be inspected before each flight and may only be operated during the day. Any accidents or incidents must be reported.

They will be “blazing a trail” toward approvals for drone use in agriculture, industrial inspections and other uses, Foxx said. Other companies that have applied for exemptions to fly drones in the U.S. include Amazon.com Inc. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s BNSF Railway Co., according to the FAA.

Film Studios

The six film and TV production companies filed almost identical petitions with the FAA on June 2 seeking to fly drones weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms) no more than 400 feet (123 meters) from the ground within a “sterile area.”

The aircraft would be operated by a licensed pilot aided by a spotter to ensure safety, according to the applications. Each operator would submit a written plan of operations to local FAA offices at least three days before shooting begins.

So far, film companies wanting to use drones have had to do their shooting in other countries with more permissive rules.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for audiences everywhere as it gives filmmakers yet another way to push creative boundaries and create the kinds of scenes and shots we could only imagine just a few years ago,” Chris Dodd, chairman and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in an e-mailed statement.

‘Huge Step’

The film companies receiving waivers are HeliVideo Productions LLC, Aerial MOB LLC, Pictorvision Inc., RC Pro Productions Consulting LLC, Astraeus Aerial and Snaproll Media LLC. Flying-Cam Inc., which has used drones overseas to capture sequences for the James Bond film “Skyfall,” is the seventh company still awaiting final FAA approval.

Before today, the only approvals for commercial drone flights in the U.S. had been for aerial inspections in oil operations in the Arctic regions of Alaska.

Today’s action paves the way for other interim drone approvals as formal regulations governing how companies can legally use unmanned aircraft in their businesses are still at least a year away.

“It’s a huge step,” Douglas Marshall, division manager of unmanned aviation regulations and standards at New Mexico State University, said in an interview.

A loosening of government restrictions on civilian and commercial drone use may be a boon for makers of small unmanned aircraft such as Paris-based Parrot SA and San Diego-based 3D Robotics Inc. Monrovia, California-based Aerovironment Inc., a maker of unmanned aircraft for the military, is already trying to expand its civilian business and is one of the 40 additional companies seeking an FAA exemption for commercial flights.

The conditions allowing commercial drone flights that are set to be unveiled today will be closely watched because they will probably mirror the kinds of restrictions the FAA will propose later this year for small unmanned aircraft, Marshall said.

The FAA is scheduled to release the proposed rule by the end of the year, and it will take at least a year before that regulation becomes final.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE