NFL First Major U.S. League to Win FAA Permission to Use Drones

  • Agency won't allow drone filming over packed stadiums
  • FAA in June said it was probing NFL teams for illegal use

A drone hovers over the practice field during a Dallas Cowboys organized team activity at the NFL football team's headquarters on June 10, 2015, in Irving, Texas.

Photographer: Tim Sharp/AP Photo

The National Football League can use drones to shoot films, documentaries and television segments, becoming the first major sports league to receive such permission from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The exemption, which precludes filming games, comes three months after the FAA said it was probing NFL teams, including the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, for their use of drones. It’s illegal to fly unmanned aircraft for any commercial purpose without first receiving a federal green light.

In a Sept. 17 letter, the FAA granted the league’s NFL Films permission to use drones but with several conditions and limitations. Among them: Drones must weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms) including payload, fly no more than 400 feet (122 meters) above the ground and travel no faster than 100 miles per hour (87 knots).

NFL Films revolutionized the way football games are chronicled, taking viewers inside the game and emphasizing the sport’s power and beauty, often in slow motion. The division produces TV programs, films and documentaries, not live broadcasts. NFL and college football coaches have praised drone footage for giving them a vantage point of the on-field action that previously didn’t exist. Fox used drones in its coverage of this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay Golf Course outside Seattle.

The FAA exemption allows NFL Films to operate drones only over empty stadiums, precluding their use on game days when the stands are packed with fans, said Kurt Wimmer, NFL Films’ outside counsel.

Drones won’t be used to film practice, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

“NFL Films has a long history of embracing and employing the latest technology,” McCarthy said in an e-mail.

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