It’s Official: Welcome to Hollywood, Unmanned Aerial Systems

Posted by Betsy Lillian on September 25, 2014 No Comments
Categories : Policy & Regulations

The Federal Aviation Administration has now taken what it says is the first step in allowing the film and television industry to use unmanned aerial systems in national airspace.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced on Sept. 25 – as predicted a few days earlier – that the FAA has granted regulatory exemptions to six aerial photo and video production companies.

Foxx determined that the UAS to be used in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness, based on the agency’s finding they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security. Those findings are permitted under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

Unmanned Aerial Online spoke with Mario Mairena, senior government relations manager at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), who called the FAA’s decision a “huge milestone” for the UAS industry. It essentially lays the groundwork for how future submissions will be handled by the FAA, he explains, and lets more companies stay in the U.S. to operate their UAS, rather than going overseas where it is permitted.

The MPAA facilitated the exemption requests on behalf of these six members: Astraeus Aerial, Aerial MOB LLC, HeliVideo Productions LLC, Pictorvision Inc., RC Pro Productions Consulting LLC (dba Vortex Aerial) and Snaproll Media LLC. The FAA has asked for additional information from Flying-Cam Inc., a seventh aerial video company that filed for exemptions with this group in June. The agency says it is working closely with the company to obtain the required information.

Several months ago, the firms asked the agency to grant exemptions from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates. To receive the exemptions, the firms had to show their UAS operations would not adversely affect safety, or would provide at least an equal level of safety to the rules from which they seek the exemptions.

In their applications, the firms said the operators will hold private pilot certificates, keep the UAS within line of sight at all times and restrict flights to what is referred to as the ‘sterile area’ on the set.

In granting the exemption, the FAA says, it has accepted these safety conditions and mandates an inspection of the aircraft before each flight and prohibits operations at night. The agency also will issue Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) that regulate flight rules and timely reports of any accident or incidents.

As of Sept. 25, the agency is considering 40 requests for exemptions from other commercial entities. Mairena says these have come from a broad range of companies, including senseFly and Yamaha for using UAS in precision agriculture. He does not see a reason why any of these companies will not also be granted an exemption, providing that they stay within the FAA’s safety guidelines for UAS usage.

Foxx made the announcement on a conference call with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America Inc. (MPAA).

“The applicants submitted UAS flight manuals with detailed safety procedures that were a key factor in our approval of their requests,” says Huerta. “We are thoroughly satisfied these operations will not pose a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground.”

The FAA notes that it encourages other industry associations to work with interested parties to develop safety manuals and standard operating procedures that will help facilitate similar petitions.

Mairena believes that the next sector to take off in terms of UAS usage could be public utilities (e.g., surveillance and security checks for pipelines and power lines) and, of course, precision agriculture.

However, he says, the result of this “landmark decision” will be noticed throughout the entire UAS industry, from those in research and development to those who provide the all of the components of the technology: “That’s going to be huge.’

The agency’s exemption grants can be viewed here.

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