drone(by Bart Jansen, USA Today) WASHINGTON – The Federal Aviation Administration cracked open the door on September 25 to commercial drones in the continental USA by allowing six movie companies to fly remote aircraft for films and television shows.

The exemptions to a general ban on commercial drones marks a significant step as the agency develops comprehensive rules for drones to share the skies with passenger planes, an effort likely to take years.

Drone advocates who welcomed the advance warned that pizza deliveries are probably at least a few years off.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the “significant milestone” with Christopher Dodd, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.

“These companies are blazing a trail that others are already following, offering the promise of new advances in agriculture and utility safety and maintenance,” Foxx said. “As we’ve seen, uses for unmanned aircraft are only limited by our imagination.”

Although the FAA approved commercial drones in the Arctic to monitor oil pipelines and ocean wildlife, these approvals are the first for the continental USA. Dozens of commercial applications have poured in to the agency since AeroVironment won approval in June to fly over land in Alaska to monitor BP operations in Prudhoe Bay.

The companies that won approval Thursday are Astraeus Aerial, Aerial MOB, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision, Snaproll Media and Vortex Aerial. The FAA has asked for more information from a seventh company that applied at the same time, Flying-Cam.

The companies said they would film on closed sets with extra precautions that will essentially be safer than using conventional aircraft. They plan to fly the aircraft within sight of the remote pilot, and the drones will travel no faster than 57 mph and no higher than 400 feet off the ground.

“We are thoroughly satisfied these operations will not pose a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground,” Huerta said.

Dodd said movies such as Skyfall, the Harry Potter series and Transformers employed drones and were filmed overseas, but the FAA’s approval will allow movies to be shot domestically.

“It’s going to make a terrific difference,” Dodd said.

Michael Toscano, CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which has 7,500 members, called the announcement a milestone for the industry. He said the FAA should do more for low-risk proposals such as flying over agriculture and mining.

Demand for commercial drones has grown significantly since Congress ordered the FAA to complete comprehensive rules for drones by September 2015. The major concerns include preventing aircraft collisions and providing for a safe landing if the remote pilot loses contact with the drone.

A proposal for smaller drones weighing up to 55 pounds is likely to be released in November. Mark Dombroff, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge, said exemptions such as the ones Thursday will be “the only game in town” for the 18 months to two years it will take the FAA to sort through comments and finalize the rules for small drones.

“If you wait, you will be late,” Dombroff said. “I think a lot of people have been sitting on the fence, waiting to see what the FAA is going to do.”

More than 40 pending requests include surveillance for law enforcement and emergency personnel; inspections of power lines and flare stacks; and monitoring crops and forestry.

Dombroff said moviemakers are an easy first step because unmanned drones weighing 30 to 40 pounds will be flown on closed sets at low altitudes — and replace helicopters that are riskier for people because of the weight and fuel.

“It’s hard to make a comparison because the comparison is so stark,” Dombroff said.

Applications for drones to fly over open spaces for pipeline inspections or agriculture are likely to win approval. Huerta said the FAA would learn from the companies granted exemptions to better craft rules.

“We are open to receiving petitions from anyone for a wide variety of purposes,” Huerta said. “This is a great way for us to develop additional information that will illuminate how we accomplish integration into the national airspace system.”

Drone advocates say it will probably take longer to approve drones over populated areas for services such as wedding photography, real estate ads or deliveries. …

First published at USAToday on Sept. 26.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from USA Today. Visit the website at usatoday .com.


NOTE: Read the “Background” below the questions before answering.

1. The first paragraph of a news article should answer the questions who, what, where and when. List the who, what, where and when of this news item. (NOTE: The remainder of a news article provides details on the why and/or how.)

2. a) Define exemption.
b) Why has the FAA granted these exemptions?

3. For what other uses have drones been permitted or requested?

4. What safety assurances have the movie companies made?

5. When did Congress order the FAA to create rules for commercial drone use? By what date must the FAA complete the rules?

6. Michael Toscano, CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which has 7,500 members, called the announcement a milestone for the industry. He said the FAA should do more for low-risk proposals such as flying over agriculture and mining.
What major concerns must the FAA address when creating rules for drone use?

7. Consider the following:
a) Who do you think should be permitted to use drones? Explain your answer.
b) Are there some individuals/organizations that should not be permitted to use drones? Explain your answer.
c) Was granting movie companies the first exemptions the best choice?
Should the media get approval for drone use above the home of crime/terrorism victims? above the homes of famous people? above your home?
Is there a limit as to how many commercial drones should be permitted to operate in any area? How high they can fly? Where they can operate?
Should a limit be placed on drone use? Is this different from the number of cars/trucks on the road? or commercial planes?
Explain your answers.


On Sept. 24, The Wall Street Journal reported:

The FAA and the film companies agreed on a set of conditions that the agency said ensured that drone operations wouldn’t compromise safety. Those conditions include that the operators are certified private pilots of manned aircraft, that the drones are inspected before each flight, and that the pilots keep the vehicles within sight. They also restrict the companies’ drone operations to daytime.

From a 2012 Daily News Article posted at StudentNewsDaily written by Forbes “Congress Welcomes the Drones”:

In February 2012, the Senate passed a $63 billion bill to provide four years of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). One of the provisions of the Reauthorization Act is that the FAA clear the path for wider spread use of drones (a.k.a. unmanned aircraft) for governmental and commercial purposes.

Within 90 days, the FAA had to speed up the process by which government agencies and law enforcement could get permission to use drones, and by 2015, it has to start allowing commercial use of drones.

The FAA is also required under the bill to provide military, commercial and privately-owned drones with expanded access to U.S. airspace currently reserved for manned aircraft by Sept. 30, 2015. That means permitting unmanned drones controlled by remote operators on the ground to fly in the same airspace as airliners, cargo planes, business jets and private aircraft.

As of February 2012, private use of drones was basically limited to hobbyists, and they have to keep the drones under 400 feet and within their line of sight. Once the FAA changes the rules, a company such as Google for example could…buy drones and use them for mapping purposes. Yes, we may [soon] have Google Street Drone View.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the national aviation authority of the United States. An agency of the Department of Transportation, it has authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of American civil aviation. The website says the FAA is “Responsible for the safety of civil aviation.”  The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 created the organization. The FAA’s roles include:

  • Regulating U.S. commercial space transportation
  • Regulating air navigation facilities’ geometry and flight inspection standards
  • Encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, including new aviation technology
  • Issuing, suspending, or revoking pilot certificates
  • Regulating civil aviation to promote safety, especially through local offices called Flight Standards District Offices
  • Developing and operating a system of air traffic control and navigation for both civil and military aircraft
  • Researching and developing the National Airspace System and civil aeronautics
  • Developing and carrying out programs to control aircraft noise and other environmental effects of civil aviation

Organizations:  The FAA is divided into four “lines of business” (LOB). Each LOB has a specific role within the FAA.

  • Airports (ARP) – plans and develops projects involving airports, overseeing their construction and operations. Ensures compliance with federal regulations.
  • Air Traffic Organization (ATO) – primary duty is to safely and efficiently move air traffic within the National Airspace System. ATO employees manage air traffic facilities including Airport Traffic Control Towers (ATCT) and Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities (TRACONs). See also Airway Operational Support.
  • Aviation Safety (AVS) – Responsible for aeronautical certification of personnel and aircraft, including pilots, airlines, and mechanics.
  • Commercial Space Transportation (AST) – ensures protection of U.S. assets during the launch or reentry of commercial space vehicles. (from faa.gov/about/mission/activities)


Visit the FAA’s webpage on drones at: faa.gov/uas

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