FAA approves commercial use of UAVs for filmmaking

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued just its second approval of commercial UAV flights, with six permits being given to film and television production companies for the purpose of aerial video capture.

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The Federal Aviation Administration has issued just its second approval of commercial UAV flights, with six permits being given to film and television production companies for the purpose of aerial video capture. BP and UAV manufacturer AeroVironment were the first to receive permission for commercial UAV flight, for purposes of aerial surveys over Alaska’s North Slope.

The permits come with limitations, however. These UAVs must be used only in a restricted area, flown under 400 feet in altitude, and must not be used for more than 30 minutes at a time (this one seems a bit odd, no?). In addition, flying at night is prohibited, and unscripted events such as reality television shows do not quality for permits (Now this, I can get behind.)

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the announcement a "significant milestone in broadening commercial (drone) use," and added that, "These companies are blazing a trail that others are already following, offering the promise of new advances in agriculture and utility safety and maintenance."

Tony Carmean of Aerial MOB, whose UAV is pictured above, told ABC News that UAVs will fundamentally change moviemaking by providing directors with the ability to get shots they could never get before. Major movie studios "want their hands on this right away," but have held off using the technology until the FAA gives the go-ahead, he said.

In a statement released by Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI, the announcement is applauded.

"The FAA’s announcement represents another important milestone in unlocking the commercial potential of UAS technology. The film and television industry has safely used UAS technology abroad for years in the productions of movies such as ‘Skyfall’ and ‘The Hunger Games.’ With this decision, Hollywood will now be able to capture the unique perspectives of UAS closer to home."

However, Toscano noted that the FAA is perhaps still behind on their granting of approval for flying commercial UAVs.

"Still, the FAA can and must do more. Several other companies and industries have requested exemptions to fly for various low-risk, commercial purposes such as precision agriculture and mining surveys. The FAA should grant these exemptions to not only help businesses harness the tremendous potential of UAS, but also help unlock the economic impact and job creation potential of the technology."

In addition, Kenneth Quinn, an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and a former FAA general counsel, said in the ABC News article that he expects other industries to oppose some of the restrictions imposed on the UAVs. The FAA is currently considering 40 requests for exemptions from other commercial entities as Congress and industries looking to use or sell the technology have been pressing the FAA to relax its ban.

While this all may be true, at least the FAA is making progress when it comes to commercial UAVs entering the airspace and perhaps ultimately making them legal (with restrictions, of course.)

For some, this can’t come soon enough.

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