US allows 6 movie and TV firms to use drones

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Hollywood hailed a major victory after being given the all-clear on Thursday to use drones for film and television production, paving the way for more unmanned aerial systems in American skies.

Six photo and video production companies will be exempt from the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) de facto ban on the commercial use of drones, provided the aircraft weighs 25kg or less; is used within sight of the remote pilot, who must hold a private pilot's licence; and is flown under 120m in altitude and remains within the confines of a production set. Operators must also keep their unmanned aerial systems within sight at all times.

"This is a big deal for us today," said chairman Chris Dodd of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Previously, Hollywood had to go abroad to use drones to capture scenes for blockbusters such as the Harry Potter series.

"Now we'll be able to do this at home in the United States. That will make a terrific difference," Mr Dodd said, adding that the move could create jobs and keep production spending on US soil.

"This is the first step to allowing the film and television industry to use unmanned aircraft systems in our nation's airspace, and it's a milestone in the wider effort to allow unmanned aircraft for many different types of commercial use," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

In granting the exemptions, the FAA also barred the six companies from making drone flights at night and said operators must inspect the aircraft before each flight.

Until now, US civil aviation authorities have all but banned the use of drones for commercial purposes. But other countries have been quicker to embrace ways in which drones can be used.

"Today's announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial unmanned aircraft systems use while ensuring we maintain our world-class safety record in all forms of flight," said Mr Foxx.

"These companies are blazing a trail that others are already following, offering the promise of new advances in agriculture and utility safety and maintenance."

FAA chief Michael Huerta said the movie-industry exemption created a roadmap for his agency to set up similar arrangements in other sectors.

The drone industry has mushroomed in recent years with the arrival of small, inexpensive remote-control aircraft that can carry cameras, sensors or other equipment, which make them useful for a wide range of uses, from inspecting oil pipelines to crop dusting to locating people lost in the wilderness.

The drone industry would create at least 70,000 US jobs in the first three years after the aircraft are integrated into US airspace, and generate nearly US$14 billion (S$17.8 billion) in economic activity, said the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.

 
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