A little over a month ago, the FAA opened the Section 333 UAS exemption process and targeted several industries for approval, including cinematographers and filmmakers. To date, eight companies involved in movie making have had their Section 333 petitions printed in the Federal Register for notice and comment. So, what are people saying to the FAA?
To date the FAA has received 86 public comments. Given the high profile of UAS issues, this strikes us as a surprisingly small number. In addition, all but five of those comments were submitted by individuals, as opposed to companies, trade associations, or lobbying groups.
The individual comments are almost evenly divided between those for and against the exemption. There are a number of common themes that run through the comments. The pro-petition comments generally argue that the exemption requests are well thought out and safety oriented. In addition, almost all of the pro-petition comments claim that these exemptions are an important step to full UAS integration.
The comments against the proposal generally revolve around two issues, piloting requirements and see-and-avoid. Many of the commenters feel that UASs are too dangerous for all but certified pilots, with a smaller number of commenters insisting that a full commercial pilots license should be required. An equal number of the negative comments are from pilots who operate in low altitude environments and have serious concerns over the risks of collision with small UASs. In addition, several commenters asked the FAA to require that UASs have ADS-B capabilities. ADS-B, or Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, is an FAA NextGen system to aid in the tracking of aircraft. The commenters had concerns that an operator on the ground may be more lax in exercising his see-and-avoid responsibilities since his life is not directly impacted by a mistake.
The five comments submitted by various organizations were split 4-1 in favor of the exemption. The National Press Photographers Association and the National News Media Coalition both filed lengthy comments endorsing the section 333 process, but expressing concerns that most of the voluntary restrictions proposed by the motion picture industry would be too onerous for the press. They asked that the FAA grant the exemptions, but refrain from imposing these restrictions to all commercial operators. In particular, the comments claim it is not possible for the press to get consent from everyone being filmed or to provide notice of flights three days in advance. In addition, the comments claimed it is unnecessary for the UAS to be operated by a crew of three or more, or for the operator to have a pilot’s license.
Modovolate Aviation, LLC endorsed the exception, but took the opportunity to request that the FAA establish a new set of rules applicable to “microdrones” because too many of the Federal Aviation Regulations cannot be complied with by such small aircraft. In addition, the Aerospace Industries Association supported the petition, calling it a necessary step that will help speed the rulemaking process.
Conversely, the Air Line Pilot’s Association (ALPA) requested that the exemption be denied. ALPA had concerns over the petition’s reference to the possibility of flights over 400′, safety issues associated with lost link procedures, and the fact that the radio spectrum used by UASs is not protected. ALPA also requested that the FAA require commercial UAS operators have a commercial pilot’s license, as well as a second class medical certificate. Finally, ALPA believed that the FAA should not grant blanket permission for the movie industry to operate, and that permission should be limited to each individual film production.
Finally, a theme expressed in both the pro- and con-comments is the perceived unfairness of a special exemption for movie makers. Those in favor of the exemption stated that the movie industry should get their exemption, but only if all commercial operators get similar exemptions. A number of those against the petition argued that the movie industry should have to wait in line with everyone else for the sUAS rules before they can operate.
More to come . . . .
(Originally posted July 22, 2014)