United States: Drones: The FAA Grants Hollywood The First Regulatory Exemptions Permitting The Commercial Use Of UAS

Last Updated: October 10 2014
Article by William V. O'Connor, Christopher J. Carr and Joanna Simon

Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted six aerial photo and video companies exemptions from FAA regulations that—before now—wholesale banned the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for commercial purposes in the United States. These companies1 now have FAA permission to use small drones "for the purpose of scripted, closed-set filming for the motion picture and television industry."

These "Hollywood Exemptions" are likely to pave the way for other companies seeking to deploy their own drones for use in agriculture, electricity, oil and gas, conservation, logistics, and other sectors. Some of the restrictions and limitations attached to the "Hollywood Exemptions," intended to mitigate risks from operating drones in urban areas and close to people, would seem inapplicable to many of these other applications. Nonetheless, the FAA's decision is viewed as a major step for the UAS industry, which is expected to generate billions of dollars in economic activity once the current restrictions on commercial use are lifted.


Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (the "Act") permits the Secretary of Transportation to exempt drones from the airworthiness certifications found in 14 C.F.R Part 91 if the Secretary decides that the proposed drone use will not create a hazard to existing national airspace users or the public. The Hollywood Exemption Requests—filed in June of this year—emphasized that they would use small rotorcraft UAS weighing less than 55 pounds, operated by a licensed pilot within a secured perimeter below 400 feet from the ground.

Thus, it was Hollywood's position that by approving the requested exemptions, the FAA would enhance safety by reducing the risks associated with conventional film operations, which use 4000 pound jet or piston powered aircraft that operate at low altitudes only feet from the subject filmed, in close proximity to both people and structures. Ultimately Hollywood proved persuasive, and the Hollywood petitioners were granted exemptions from several strict regulatory requirements that typically govern aircraft use.


The Exemptions—while allowing drone use for filming—are still highly restrictive: They only permit use of certain models of drones that must fly at speeds below 50 knots. The flights must be conducted below 400 feet and within the visual line of sight of the pilot in command, who must possess at least a private pilot's certificate. The Exemptions also incorporate the various UAS operators' manuals that were submitted to the FAA in support of the Exemption requests. Flight plans of activities are required to be submitted to the local Flight Standards District Offices and the operators must obtain waivers from the relevant Air Traffic Organizations. Notably, the Hollywood petitioners themselves proposed most of the restrictions in their Exemption Requests in order to better the chances that the Exemptions would be granted. The Hollywood strategy worked.


The Hollywood Exemptions are the first time the FAA has permitted any company to operate UAS for commercial purposes without first obtaining an airworthiness certificate. The FAA's decision represents a shift in the FAA's focus away from preventing drone use and towards successfully integrating drones into the nation's airspace once it is shown that the proposed use is safe and effective. There are two takeaways from the Hollywood Exemptions for companies seeking to use drones in their businesses.

First, a Section 333 Exemption is not impossible to obtain. The FAA has shown that the exemption process is a viable route around the FAA's current onerous requirement that commercial drone operators must apply for an airworthiness certificate. A commercial operator who can demonstrate that its use of UAS will be safe, secure, and in the public interest, should seriously consider following Hollywood's lead and applying for a Section 333 Exemption. This is particularly true for industries where drone use can safely replace the use of more dangerous manned aircraft, or where a flight plan can be developed for the drone far in advance of the actual flight. In fact, the FAA "encourages other industry associations to work with interested parties to develop safety manuals and standard operating procedures that will help facilitate similar petitions."

Second, the restrictions imposed by the FAA on the Hollywood Exemptions may be indicative of the types of restrictions that we will see the FAA propose in UAS-specific regulations. The FAA has yet to propose such regulations, despite a congressional mandate to issue them. Industry insiders believe that the FAA will issue the proposed regulations at the beginning of 2015 at the earliest, and the regulations won't be finalized until at least a year after that. If the Hollywood Exemptions are any indication of what the future holds, we can expect detailed regulations that require significant FAA oversight before drones get off the ground. In the meantime, companies submitting Section 333 Exemption applications should not shrink from identifying the features of their proposed operations that render restrictions designed to mitigate risks of drone use in urban areas inappropriate. Many utility, agriculture, maritime, and other infrastructure uses come to mind.

The FAA says it is already considering 40 requests for exemptions from other commercial entities. These include requests by both UAS manufacturers and operators. Trimble Navigation, for example, is seeking an exemption to permit the commercial use of its UX5 drone for precision aerial surveys. Trimble identifies the agriculture and mining industries as potential beneficiaries of the exemption. On the other end of the spectrum is Clayco, Inc., a design and construction firm and proposed drone operator, which seeks to use small UAS for safety and monitoring of its "controlled environment" construction sites. The pending exemption requests cross various industries and proposed uses, but one thing is clear: whether it is sooner or later, drones will be a normal part of many business functions. We are closely monitoring the FAA's handling of the pending requests in order to best advise clients who may wish to use this exciting technology.


1. Astraeus Aerial, Aerial MOB, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision Inc., RC Pro Productions Consulting, and Snaproll Media.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions