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Hollywood to feds: Let us use drones

Doug Gross, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Seven production companies have petitioned the FAA to use drones for aerial video
  • The Motion Picture Association of America filed on behalf of them
  • Currently, there's only one exemption to U.S. commercial-drone ban
  • Companies want to use drones to shoot footage for movies, TV

(CNN) -- It's almost entirely illegal to use drones for money-making purposes in the United States. But a little Hollywood magic could change that.

The U.S. government is considering a request from movie and TV producers to let them use unmanned aircraft to shoot aerial video.

Currently, there's only one exemption to the Federal Aviation Administration's nationwide ban on commercial drones, called unmanned aircraft systems or UAS. That's a spot off Alaska's coast where drones are used by an oil company.

But a second exemption could make it easier and less expensive to create memorable movie moments like the opening sequences from Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and Academy Award winner "American Beauty."

"Unmanned aircraft systems offer the motion picture and television industry an innovative and safer option for filming," Neil Fried, senior vice president for the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a written statement. "This new tool for storytellers will allow for creative and exciting aerial shots, and is the latest in a myriad of new technologies being used by our industry to further enhance the viewer experience.

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"We welcome the FAA's leadership and support their guidance to safely authorize the use of UASs for the motion picture and television industry."

On Monday, the FAA officially confirmed it is considering the request, which came from seven photo and video production companies.

The administration's statement acknowledged that Hollywood could see "tangible economic benefits" from an exemption.

"However, all the associated safety issues must be carefully considered to make sure any hazards are appropriately mitigated," the statement continued.

Companies would still have to apply individually for permission to use drones if the exemption is approved, the FAA said.

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SnapRoll Media, a production company that specializes in aerial shots, is one of the companies that have asked for the exemption. In their application, published by Ars Technica, a CNN content partner, Snaproll said shots done with lightweight, remote-controlled drones would be safer and less disruptive than current shoots that use helicopters.

Snaproll said its drones weigh less than 55 pounds, including camera equipment, and almost always travel at speeds of less than 57 mph.

"All flights will occur over private or controlled access property with the property owner's prior consent and knowledge," the Tennessee-based company wrote. "Filming will be of people who have also consented to being filmed or otherwise have agreed to be in the area where filming will take place."

The suggestion of an exemption marks something of a change for the FAA. As companies from Web retail behemoth Amazon to pizza chain Domino's have toyed with the idea of deploying drones, the administration has been slow to craft new rules and regulations for them.

The Alaska exemption, for ConocoPhillips oil company, came only after prodding from Congress.

Hobbyists in the United States are allowed to fly small drones below 400 feet for noncommercial purposes. But one of the administration's key concerns is how to allow commercial drones without endangering airplanes and other existing, manned aircraft.

After a decade of pondering, the FAA said it plans to release a proposal for new regulations in November. Even if it does, it could be months, if not years, before the proposals become legally binding.

In its statement, the FAA said companies from three other industries have filed similar appeals for exemptions to the federal ban on commercial drones: agriculture, power line and pipeline inspection, and oil and gas-line inspection.

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