The FAA on Sept. 25 granted requests from six aerial photo and video production companies to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for film and television.
The regulatory exemptions granted permit the use of small unmanned systems for scripted, closed-set filming. The FAA currently only approves commercial operations of unmanned aircraft on a case-by-case basis, and approvals have been extremely rare.
“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,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a media release. “These companies are blazing a trail that others are already following, offering the promise of new advances in agriculture and utility safety and maintenance.”
The six companies, along with a seventh from which the FAA has requested more information, requested exemptions from several federal aviation regulations earlier in 2014 that would allow them to operate aircraft less than 55 pounds in controlled environments for filming. The FAA determined that the operations “do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security” and exempted them from regulations related to airworthiness certificates, general flight rules, pilot certification requirements, manuals, maintenance, and equipment. Under the exemptions, operators must hold private pilot certificates, keep the aircraft within line of sight, and restrict flights to a “sterile” area on the set. The FAA also specified that there must be an inspection of the aircraft before each flight, and the aircraft must not fly at night.
The production companies’ requests were facilitated by the Motion Picture Association of America Inc., and the FAA said it “encourages other industry associations to work with interested parties to develop safety manuals and standard operating procedures that will help facilitate similar petitions.”
The growth of the burgeoning unmanned aircraft industry has outpaced the establishment of regulations for their integration into the National Airspace System, but a provision of the FAA reauthorization law of 2012 provides an avenue for individual operators to seek FAA approval. The FAA said it is currently considering 40 requests for exemptions from other commercial entities.
AOPA has long urged the FAA to develop regulations for the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the National Airspace System, emphasizing the importance of protecting manned aircraft in the system. The association is also serving on government-industry committees to develop recommendations for safe integration and has urged the FAA to step up its efforts to develop regulations for small unmanned aircraft.