This post was written by Hilary St. Jean.
Unmanned aerial cameras have been legal in other parts of the world but prohibited for commercial use in the United States until last week, with the limited exception of two commercial-drone operations, which the FAA had previously approved for Alaskan oil operations. On September 25, 2014, the FAA announced that it approved certain uses of drones or unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) in the National Airspace System for film and TV productions. This is a breakthrough for the entertainment industry because drones allow filmmakers Superman-like abilities to take images at angles never before captured. Drones are able to cover altitudes lower than helicopters but higher than cranes, and can navigate indoor areas that are otherwise difficult or impossible to get to. However, the FAA’s approval is not without restriction.
The FAA must grant permission for all non-recreational (commercial) drone flights. Thus far, FAA permission has been granted to only six aerial photo companies for film and TV production. Additionally, various safety requirements are associated with the approval process. The FAA stated that these six applicants submitted UAS flight manuals with detailed safety procedures that were a key factor in their approval. Nevertheless, the requirements leave open the opportunity for operating requests from companies in other fields. In fact, the FAA stated it is currently evaluating requests from 40 companies (allegedly including Amazon.com Inc., which desires to test prototype delivery drones at its Seattle headquarters). Meanwhile, abroad – at DHL headquarters in Germany – drones are beginning deliveries of medications and other urgent goods to the island of Juist, after securing approval from state and federal transport ministries and air traffic control authorities to operate in restricted flight areas. These are referred to as “parcelcopters,” and illustrate the widespread potential future use and capability of UAS both domestically and abroad.
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