On September 25, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted a limited number of regulatory exemptions allowing the restricted use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) — or “drones” — for film and television production by a select group of six aerial photo and video production companies.
FilmL.A. officials applauded the FAA’s decision as a first step toward the full legalization of UAS for commercial filming. Although FilmL.A. coordinates film permits in full compliance with current local, state and federal law, the not-for-profit has been vocal in its support for the safe and responsible use of UAS for commercial filming. The FAA’s list of exempted UAS operators includes four L.A. based companies.
Earlier this year, FilmL.A. President Paul Audley submitted a letter of support for a MPAA-led push for the UAS filming exemption.
Audley’s letter argued, among other things, that the national ban on commercial UAS use stifles innovation and job creation and puts the U.S. and California at a competitive disadvantage against less restrictive foreign competitors, where drone-assisted filming is fully legal. Drones also offer an alternative to helicopter-assisted aerial filming, which can be impactful from a community relations standpoint.
“Our local government partners have looked to the FAA for leadership regarding drone use on the film set,” Paul Audley noted. “With these exemptions, UAS operators have a chance to prove the value and safety of this activity on its merits.”
The decision exempts approved firms from regulations that address general flight rules, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates. Exempted firms had to demonstrate to the FAA that their UAS operations would not adversely affect safety, or would provide at least an equal level of safety to the rules they sought exemptions from.
Among other requirements outlined on the FAA web site, exempted operators must hold private pilot certificates and keep the UAS within line of sight at all times. UAS must be flown at speeds below 50 knots and below 400 feet above ground level. UAS are also required, generally, to maintain a distance of 500 feet from all film production personnel.
FilmL.A. is now in discussion with permit approvers regarding the implementation of the FAA’s ruling. Filmmakers seeing up-to-date information about the use of drones on film sets are advised to contact FilmL.A.’s Production Planning Department.