The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved a significant step forward for the commercial use of drones by allowing Hollywood to use unmanned aircraft for moviemaking.
The agency’s announcement gave six companies regulatory exemptions so they can fly unmanned aircraft over outdoor movie sets. The FAA emphasized that the video production and aerial photography companies had to meet stringent safety requirements.
“We are thoroughly satisfied these operations will not pose a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.
The decision is seen as a milestone in the move toward greater use of commercial drones. Currently, restrictions prevent companies such as Amazon from introducing the use of drones for customer delivery or other purposes. The FAA permits the recreational use of model aircraft operated from the ground but has strict rules for business-related pursuits.
In a November 2014 ruling, the National Transportation Safety Board upheld the FAA’s position that drones meet the legal definition of “aircraft.” The case revolved around the FAA’s decision to impose a $10,000 fine against a man who, according to the agency, recklessly operated a drone for commercial purposes near a university campus in Virginia in 2011.
In June, the FAA approved the use of unmanned drones in remote areas of Alaska’s North Slope, where the energy company BP sought to document maintenance activities on roads and infrastructure. BP said it believed the drones would help save time, support safety and improve reliability. It was the first time the federal government had OK’d commercial drone operations over domestic airspace.
The exemptions for moviemakers were hailed by the Consumer Electronics Association, an industry trade group. The association forecasts the consumer drone market worldwide could reach $300 million by 2018, with nearly 1 million drones sold.
“We already see these devices being used to assist in a variety of innovative applications, from aerial coverage for sports and real estate to assistance in search and rescue and disaster relief missions to providing novel new camera angles to capture professional and personal video footage,” the association’s president Gary Shapiro said in a statement.
In order to satisfy its safety concerns, the FAA set a number of requirements for the use of drones by the film and TV industry. Drone operators must have private pilot certificates, flights will be restricted to certain areas of film sets and unmanned aircraft must remain within the pilot’s line of sight at all times.
The companies are not allowed to fly drones at night, and the FAA can inspect each aircraft before flight and require timely reports of accidents or incidents.
In making its announcement, the FAA encouraged other industry associations to work with members to develop their own applications for exemptions for drone flights. As of September 2014, the agency said it was reviewing 40 exemption requests from other commercial entities.