Sept. 26, 2014

In another tentative step toward wide-scale deployment of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in commercial applications, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced on Sept. 25 that the FAA has granted exemptions under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 for six Hollywood contract operations to utilize UASs for aerial cinematography.

“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,” said Foxx, who was joined by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Christopher Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, in making the announcement.

According to the agency, exempted UAS operations will not require FAA airworthiness certification, though users will be required to hold a private pilot certificate and maintain at all times a line of sight with the vehicles being operated. Any UAS in flight must also not depart established sterile areas on closed movie sets, and all operations will be limited to a maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground.

Operators will also be required to notify the FAA of all UAS activity prior to the start of operations. Huerta termed this deliberately cautious approach “a major step forward to safe and staged integration” of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System. “We are thoroughly satisfied these operations will not pose a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground.”

The FAA administrator further noted the agency has received 40 exemption requests for UAS operations from a variety of industries, and he encourages others to submit petitions.

Unmanned aircraft offer the potential for supporting a diverse range of missions in business aviation, including agriculture, power line and pipeline inspection and oil and gas flare stack inspection. Two sessions scheduled during the 2014 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA2014) will discuss upcoming regulations governing UAS operations and their expected impact on the industry.

Learn more about UAS sessions during NBAA2014.

Sarah Wolf, NBAA’s senior manager for security and facilitation and a member of an RTCA working group focused on UAS pilot certification requirements under FAR Part 61, participated in a conference call hosted by the FAA, during which Foxx made the UAS announcement.

“Safety is always the top priority for NBAA and its Members, so we are very closely monitoring all of the FAA’s work regarding UAS integration into the national airspace system,” Wolf said. “The step announced by the agency is in accord with our long-held position on UAS – namely, that they should not share the same airspace with manned aircraft unless they meet the same certification and airworthiness standards as manned aircraft, including the ability to take timely directions from air traffic control, and to sense and avoid other aircraft and UAS.

“Additionally, we will continue to oppose any steps taken in introducing the aircraft that would reduce or restrict current access levels for business aviation to airspace or airports,” Wolf said.

The companies receiving exemptions for UAS film production are Astraeus Aerial, Aerial MOB, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision Inc., RC Pro Productions Consulting and Snaproll Media. A seventh applicant, Flying-Cam Inc., was asked to submit additional information before the FAA would consider its waiver.