FAA Clears the Drone Runway for Hollywood; California Governor Grounds AB-1327


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on September 25, 2014, that it approved exemptions to six aerial photo and video production companies to use unmanned aircraft systems - or drones, as they are otherwise known. The FAA’s approval marks a significant initial step toward commercial drone use by the film and television industry. Might we interpret these exemptions as a signal to other industries that more exemptions may be on the horizon? A message in the FAA press release suggests the way forward.

The FAA’s current regulations allow law enforcement agencies, fire departments and other public agencies to use drones, but thus far the agency has severely restricted the use of drones by private industry. Effectively, the regulations ban the use of drones for commercial purposes, but allow for hobby or recreational flying. In its press release, the FAA stated that a key factor in approving the movie companies’ applications was that the applicants submitted flight manuals with detailed safety procedures, ensuring that the operation of drones by these companies will not pose a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground. The FAA encouraged other industry associations to work with interested parties to develop safety manuals and standard operating procedures that will help facilitate similar petitions. Currently, the FAA is considering 40 requests for exemptions from other commercial entities.

Meanwhile, on September 28, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed AB-1327, a drone bill that the California legislature passed in August. The bill generally would have prohibited public agencies from using unmanned aircraft systems, or contracting for the use of unmanned aircraft systems, with certain exceptions applicable to law enforcement agencies and in certain other cases, including when the use or operation of the unmanned aircraft system achieves the core mission of the agency and the purpose is unrelated to the gathering of criminal intelligence. In his veto message, Governor Brown indicated the bill’s exceptions were too narrow and could impose requirements beyond what is required by the 4th Amendment or the privacy provisions in the California Constitution.

Stoel will continue to monitor both the FAA and the California legislature as the use of drones continues to draw interest from both the public and private sectors.

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