On 25 September 2014 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted regulatory exemptions to six aerial photo and video production companies for commercial operations of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for purposes of movie and television production. These exemptions are the first such exemptions authorizing commercial operations of UAS in the contiguous United States, and were granted based on the authority provided to the FAA in Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

In granting the exemptions, the FAA determined that the UAS to be used in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they do not pose a threat to national airspace users, the public, or national security. The exemptions are subject to a number of conditions, including that

  • the UAS operators hold private pilot certificates; 
  • the UAS be kept within line of sight at all times; 
  • the UAS flights remain in the "sterile area" on the movie/TV set;
  • the UAS be inspected before each flight; 
  • there are no night operations; and 
  • the UAS be operated at 400 feet above the ground or lower. 

The FAA reportedly will issue Certificates of Waiver or Authorization that mandate flight rules and timely reports of any accident or incidents in connection with those commercial UAS operations.

The FAA also posted guidance about applications for these types of UAS exemptions. As of 25 September, the FAA is considering 40 petitions for exemptions from other commercial entities. The agency encouraged other industries to develop appropriate safety procedures for their industry and to file similar petitions.