By James Hirsen, Special for USDR
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the Obama administration recently granted Hollywood an exemption to the government’s ban on commercial drone usage. The action by the FAA allows designated television and film production companies to use the unmanned aircraft on U.S. movie and TV projects.
After processing applications from seven production companies, the government agency gave six of the firms the legal right to use camera-equipped drones on specified movie and television sets. The six companies covered under the exemption are HeliVideo Productions, Aerial MOB LLC, Snaproll Media LLC, RC Pro Productions Consulting LLC, Astraeus Aerial, and Pictorvision Inc. A request by a company called Flying-Cam Inc. is still under review.
A host of other companies from additional industries such as energy, construction, and agriculture are also seeking to use drones for various business related purposes. Dozens of such commercial and industrial companies as those listed above have filed applications for exemptions with the FAA. Up until the time that Hollywood received its approval, the only exemption that the FAA had granted was one given to the BP oil company, which allowed for the flying of a drone over a very small stretch of airspace in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
Many are wondering how Hollywood became the first industry to acquire legal approval for commercial drone use. There are a number of possible reasons worthy of mention.
The entertainment industry maintains an extremely close relationship with the Democratic Party via the community’s extensive fundraising efforts and multifaceted support of campaigns and policies that the current administration favors.
The entertainment business also has an ongoing relationship with a powerful lobbyist in the form of former Sen. Christopher Dodd, who is currently the reigning chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Dodd and the MPAA played an active role in guiding seven television and film production companies in their filings of applications to the FAA. (Exemptions to the general ban on commercial drone use were sought using Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Provision is made in Section 333 instructing the FAA to allow small drones in the nation’s airspace when companies can demonstrate a use that fits into specific operations guidelines.)
In pursuit of desired exemptions, the Hollywood contingent had argued that the use of drones for aerial shots would lead to improved safety conditions on production sets. Helicopter accidents connected with production set activities have resulted in more lives being lost than for incidents related to any other cause. Since 1980, 33 film and TV personnel have perished in helicopter accidents around the world, with 14 deaths occurring in the United States. The use of drones is something that the industry would welcome in an effort to improve workplace safety, but obviously so would other corporate enterprises that as part of operations must routinely engage in activities that could be hazardous for their workers.
Hollywood production companies seeking exemptions also pointed out that drone use can be easily monitored in the highly-controlled locations in which movie and television productions are taking place, asserting that privacy is less of a concern in a location that already has cameras in operation.
Adding to Hollywood’s case for use of the devices is the fact that entertainment companies have already been employing unmanned aerial support for years. Sony and Paramount used drones overseas on the sets of film projects that include the movies “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Skyfall.” Millennium Films and Lionsgate used drones while on location in Bulgaria, during the shooting of a segment of “The Expendables 3.” One of the companies that filed for an exemption, Flying-Cam Inc., won an Oscar for technical achievements for the aforementioned movie, “Skyfall.”
Other entertainment companies are also looking to utilize drones in a variety of ways. In August of 2014, Disney applied for three patents that deal with drone use. The Mouse House is contemplating using drones at its theme parks to operate giant marionettes in the air and to move projection screens high above the audience. Additionally, Cirque du Soleil recently produced a video that shows the use of drones with attached lights, which assist in the storytelling that is taking place on stage.
The exemptions granted to Hollywood could ultimately open doors for the widespread commercial use of drones in other industries. But perhaps not, if exemptions are granted on a selective basis or if they should be given to companies for reasons other than stated purposes.
Nevertheless, entertainment industry notables might be wise to give some consideration to the potential use and/or abuse of drones by a companion industry that is at times its nemesis—the press, tabloid and otherwise.