In a historic decision, the FAA today approved the request of six aerial photo and video production companies to use unmanned aircraft systems to support their filming operations. In its decision, announced this afternoon, the FAA addressed certain rules and requirements from which the companies are exempted and procedures that the companies must follow.

In May, Aerial Mob, Astraeus Aerial Cinema Systems, Flying-Cam Aerial Systems, Heli Video Productions, PictorVision, Snaproll Media and Vortex Aerial petitioned the FAA under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Section 333 (Special Rules for Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems) for exemption from the FAA’s current no-fly restriction on the commercial use of UAS.  Section 333 provides the FAA the flexibility to expedite operational authorization of certain UAS before completion of small UAS rulemaking, expected to be out for comment later this year, upon consideration of such factors as the UAS’s size, weight, speed, proximity to airports and populated areas, and operation within visual line of sight.

In support of their petitions, the companies, and the Motion Picture Association of America, develop guidelines and safety procedures, which included that the operators hold private pilot certificates, keeping the UAS within line of sight, and restricting flights to the “sterile area” of the particular set. In granting the exemptions, the FAA added the additional requirement that the aircraft be inspected before each flight, and prohibiting operations at night.  Further the FAA said that it would issue certificates of authorization (COA) to regulate each such planned operation.

To date, the FAA has received 45 requests for exemptions under Section 333 from a variety of companies across a range of industries, including agriculture, oil and gas, pipeline power line and inspectors and surveyors, GIS/mapping, construction, and real estate. Today’s announcement, and the FAA’s guidance developed as a result of its review of these initial petitions, has proven Section 333 to be a viable avenue for commercial UAS operations, and opened the door to other businesses seeking to use UAS to support their operations.  A “how to” roadmap for petitioning for exemption under Section 333 was posted to the FAA’s website (available here).