Document from film company shows what exemptions they want the FAA to make for them

The FAA announced last week that seven aerial photo and video production companies had asked for exemptions to its commercial drone ban.

Not that Hollywood hasn’t already been using drones — reports state that drones have aided in the filming of blockbusters including Skyfall, The Hunger Games and even The Smurfs 2. And even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Gifford Hooper and Philip George of Hovercam an Oscar for the continuing development of the Helicam miniature helicopter camera system, a high-speed, extremely maneuverable, turbine-engine, radio-controlled miniature helicopter that supports professional film and digital cinema cameras.

This picture shows a turbine-powered helicopter flying over a highly populated area to film a movie. A drone could replace this helicopter.

“Helicam provides a wide range of stabilized, remotely operated pan, tilt and roll capabilities, achieving shots impossible for full-size helicopters,” the award states.

But 7 companies, Aerial MOB, Asraeus, Flying-Cam, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision, SnapRoll Media and Vortex, want to work with the FAA by asking for exemptions to any FAA standards for flying drones.

DroneGirl has obtained a copy of a 14-page letter sent to the FAA by SnapRoll Media, one of the film companies that wants the FAA to make an exemption to their regulations so they can use drones to shoot films.

“Given the small size of the sUASs involved and restricted sterile environment within which they will operate, the applicant falls squarely within that zone of safety in which Congress envisioned that the FAA must, by exemption, allow commercial operations of UASs to commence immediately,” the document states. “Also due to the size of the UASs and the restricted areas in which the relevant sUASs will operate, approval of the application presents no national security issue.”

The letter outlines requirements, and immediately follows them with reasons why an exemption is needed. If the letter (posted here) is tl;dr for you, here are some key points:


Section 91.151 maintains that an aircraft must have enough fuel to fly to the first point of intended landing plus be able to fly after that for at least 30 minutes during the day and 45 minutes at night.

  • SnapRoll argues that its batteries provide 40 minutes of powered flight, so in order to meet the requirements, they would be limited to only 10 minutes of flight.
A helicopter flies over a movie set. 7 film companies wrote to the FAA requesting that drones be able to replace helicopters for filming.

Section 91.9(b) provides that no person may operate a US-registered civil aircraft unless there is a airplane or rotorcraft flight manual available in the aircraft.

  • Well, given the size of an sUAS, there is no room or proper configuration to carry a flight manual. Also there’s no pilot on board, so that’s probably not really necessary.

Section 45.23(b) requires that registration numbers and words must be displayed on each entrance to the aircraft.

  • Drones don’t really have an entrance.

The document is signed by Jonathan B. Hill of Cooley LLC, counsel for SnapRoll Media and John McGraw of John McGraw Aerospace Consulting.

If the FAA allows for these exemptions, it could lay the groundwork for impending regulation in the next few years and could make a huge different for drone operators. FlySpan Systems CEO and Founder Brock Christoval said his company “is excited to see the FAA make an advance in the right direction.”

If exempted, companies like SnapRoll could make a huge impact on how people view drones for commercial use in the US.

“The impetus is now on Hollywood to prove that it can integrate drone technology safely,” Christoval said.

To see what kind of work SnapRoll is up to, here’s some footage by SnapRoll from back in 2012, shot with a RED Epic, Phantom Flex and Phantom Gold. Snaproll claims to hold the title as the first drone operators to successfully carry the RED One digital camera.

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