FAA grants UAS exemptions, AUVSI says more are needed

By Patrick C. Miller | September 26, 2014

The Federal Aviation Administration took a significant step toward the commercial use of UAS technology by granting regulatory exemptions to six aerial photo and video production companies.

In making the announcement Thursday, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said it was the first step to allowing the film and television industry the use of UAS in the national airspace system. 

The Motion Picture Association of America facilitated the exemption requests on behalf of six members: Astraeus Aerial, Aerial Mob, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision Inc, Vortex Aerial and Snaproll Media. 

Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, termed the exemptions “another important milestone in unlocking the commercial potential of UAS technology.”

He noted that 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.”

However, Toscano said the FAA must do even more to provide opportunities for additional commercial UAS applications.

“Several other companies and industries have requested exemptions to fly for various low-risk, commercial purposes such as precision agriculture and mining surveys,” he said. “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.”

According to AUVSI, the FAA has previously granted just two commercial permits for UAS in the United States. They’re for the inspection of oil operations in rural Alaska and are under heavy restrictions. 

Foxx made the announcement during a conference call with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Chris Dodd, chairman and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America Inc.

“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.

Foxx determined that the UAS to be used in the proposed operations don’t need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they don’t 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.

“Today’s announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial UAS use while ensuring we maintain our world-class safety record in all forms of flight,” Foxx said. “These companies are blazing a trail that others are already following, offering the promise of new advances in agriculture and utility safety and maintenance.”

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 the "sterile area" on the set.  In granting the exemption, FAA accepted these safety conditions, adding an inspection of the aircraft before each flight, and prohibiting operations at night. The agency also will issue certificates of authorization that mandate flight rules and timely reports of any accident or incidents.

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

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 is working closely with the company to obtain the required information.