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Filmmakers Get Permission to Use Drones in the U.S.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced on Thursday that it will allow the restricted use of unmanned aircraft, or drones, on movie and TV locations.

The agency’s approval had been expected. It grants a waiver to six aerial photo and video production companies to use the unmanned aircraft in production. The FAA determined that the drones do not need an FAA certificate of airworthiness based on a finding that they do not a pose a threat to national airspace users or national security.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, FAA administrator Michael Huerta and MPAA chairman Chris Dodd announced the waiver in a press call with reporters on Thursday.

Last spring, seven aerial photo and video production companies applied for a waiver from FAA rules to allow the unmanned aircraft to be used on sets. Those granted approval include Astraeus Aerial, Aerial MOB, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision Inc., RC Pro Productions Consulting, Vortex Aerial and Snaproll Media. Huerta said that the application of a seventh company, Flying-Cam, was still under consideration as the agency seeks more information.

Productions like “Skyfall” and the Harry Potter movies have already been using camera-mounted drones for aerial shots, but the filming has been in other countries that allow for their use.

The FAA approval comes with restrictions: the unmanned aircraft can be used only in closed sets. A certified pilot must operate the drones, and they will be allowed to got up to 400 feet, within sight lines. Productions must give the FAA notice of their use, so the agency can inform air traffic control in that region. The FAA also is not allowing the use of drones at night, although Huerta indicated they could reconsider that in the future.

Tony Carmean of Aerial MOB said that he was “elated” by the FAA’s decision and predicted that “within a week or two we could be on a set shooting.”

“The consumer wins because now they are going to get better quality filmmaking because of the kinds of shots this allows,” he said.

He emphasized that the shooting will be in “very controlled environments” and only on scripted productions. That may have played in the FAA’s decision to choose movies and TV shows as the first industry to get a waiver, with fewer privacy and safety issues, he said.

Studios had supported the effort to obtain the waiver, arguing that it would be done in a highly controlled environment and will be safer and cheaper than the use of other types of aerial photography.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for audiences everywhere as it gives filmmakers yet another way to push creative boundaries and create the kinds of scenes and shots we could only imagine just a few years ago,” Dodd said in a statement.

Dodd suggested that the FAA action would help encourage more movie and TV production in the U.S.

“This is an important day for the industry,” he said in the conference call.

Other industries that are seeking exemptions include precision agriculture, power line and pipeline inspection, and oil and gas flare stack inspection.

Foxx said that the movie and TV waiver, and it’s set of conditions, could be a model for other industries seeking to use the unmanned aircraft. There are almost 50 other petitions before the FAA for their use.

He said that they were “trying to strike the right balance between embracing new technology and protecting the safety of the public.”

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