While flying drones remains illegal for commoners in the US, the Federal Aviation Administration is considering allowing a handful of movie and TV studios to commandeer unmanned aircrafts throughout the country's skies.
The FAA announced its plans on Monday to possibly offer regulatory exemptions on its drone ban to seven companies, which have petitioned the government agency for permission to fly the vehicles. The companies are looking to use drones for filming and photographing aerial shots for their movie and television productions.
If approved, these would be some of the first commercial companies to get FAA permission to fly drones.
"If the exemption requests are granted, there could be tangible economic benefits as the agency begins to address the demand for commercial UAS operations," the FAA wrote in a statement. "However, all the associated safety issues must be carefully considered to make sure any hazards are appropriately mitigated. The petitioner must still obtain operational approval from the FAA."
Unmanned drones bring up the sticky issue of privacy. These self-flying vehicles can swoop over vast areas gathering information on unsuspecting people. They've also been associated with near accidents, such as the US Airways flight that almost hit an unmanned aircraft while landing in Florida last month.
However, drones can be very useful for civilians. For instance, earth scientists could use them for gathering data and research, hunters could use them to stake out prey, and movie studios could use them to collect original footage.
"Unmanned aircraft systems offer the motion picture and television industry an innovative and safer option for filming," Neil Fried, the Motion Picture Association of America's senior vice president of Government and Regulatory Affairs, said in a statement (PDF). "This new tool for storytellers will allow for creative and exciting aerial shots, and is the latest in a myriad of new technologies being used by our industry to further enhance the viewer experience."
The FAA has been steadily loosening its stance on drone use. Last November, the agency released a report that cautiously said drone flying in certain situations might be possible, such as when farmers monitor their crops. And in March, the FAA announced that it would begin considering case-by-case approvals for commercial drone use.
The seven movie and TV studios the FAA is considering to allow drone use include Aerial MOB, Astraeus Aerial, Flying-Cam, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision, Vortex Aerial, and Snaproll Media.