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The FAA will approve Hollywood’s request to use drones for filming, government and industry sources familiar with the process have told Forbes. This afternoon the FAA will announce its decision, and explain the procedures under which production companies will operate and the aviation rules which they are exempted from, the sources say.
In May, seven aerial photo and video production companies asked for regulatory exemptions (known as a 333 exemption) that would allow the film and television industry to use drones with FAA approval. Those seven companies and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), were asked by the FAA to develop the guidelines and safety procedures under which they planned to operate. The FAA reviewed those procedures and is expected to approve the drone-specific rules and standards that will enable Hollywood to be exempt from existing aviation regulations.
The process was an onerous one that began more than four years ago with aerial cinematography companies working to develop internal guidelines. After filing their request for an exemption, the industry began drafting rules and guidelines, with the participation of pilots, lawyers, consultants, unmanned aviation experts, cinematographers, representatives from the studios, and experienced cinematography companies including Aerial Mob, Astraeus Aerial Cinema Systems, Flying-Cam Aerial Systems, Heli Video Productions, PictorVision, Snaproll Media and Vortex Aerial.
A representative from Vortex Aerial, one of the companies involved in the exemption process, said, “We are very proud to be a part of this monumentally historical event. Being the result of over 4 years of industry leader collaboration we can only hope that this most daunting and financially taxing of tasks will finally come to fruition and not be yet another false start for our industry.”
Aerial Mob, one of the aerial cinematography companies involved in the exemption process features the above image on their website.
The exemption is expected to specify detailed procedures under which companies may operate. The companies involved expect to release clear safety rules and guidelines that will set the standard for other companies to follow. The exemption allows the companies to fly pursuant to specific rules for the types of flights film productions plan to conduct. By definition, the exemption means that Hollywood will not need to to comply with some of the general flight rules covering pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates and certain airworthiness certification requirements.
Hollywood is an appropriate industry to be granted one of the first exemptions, said Tony Carmean of Aerial Mob, because it can address the FAA’s two major concerns: safety and privacy. “Most studio productions take place on closed sites with an established perimeter, ensuring that personnel on those sites are affiliated with the production and are aware of inbound aircraft,” he said. Aerial Mob has worked with clients such as the BBC, Nike, Harvard University and MTV. The company suspended all operations inside the United States while awaiting FAA approval, oftentimes filming in Mexico, which has a more permissive environment for aerial cinematography.
The companies involved in the exemption process have extensive flight experience with both manned and unmanned aircraft, suggesting that certification as a pilot of manned aircraft may be a criteria that the FAA believes is important for the operation of unmanned aircraft. To date, the FAA has received 45 requests for exemptions from large and small companies across a range of industries including agriculture, oil and gas, pipeline inspectors and surveyors. “We have even received an exemption request from a realtor, and a person asking for permission to use a UAS for news gathering,” said FAA spokesman Les Dorr.
Currently, Certificates of Waiver or Authorization are available to public entities that want to fly drones in civil airspace. The FAA says that commercial operations are authorized on a case-by-case basis. Such operations require a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval. The exemption process under Section 333 provides an additional avenue for commercial UAS operations.
Gregory S. McNeal is a professor specializing in law and public policy. You can follow him on Twitter @GregoryMcNeal or on Facebook.