Hollywood will soon have a new angle on capturing aerial footage.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday that it has approved exemptions that would for the first time allow six aerial photo and video production companies to use "unmanned aircraft systems," otherwise known as drones.
The FAA responded to a request for a waiver filed earlier this year by the companies. The decision is the first step in allowing the film and television industry to use drones, according to a statement from U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Foxx also determined that drones used for such operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness based on a finding they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security.
"Today's announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] use while ensuring we maintain our world-class safety record in all forms of flight," Foxx said in a statement. "These companies are blazing a trail that others are already following, offering the promise of new advances in agriculture and utility safety and maintenance."
The agency already allows law enforcement agencies, fire departments and other public agencies to use drones but has, in effect, banned their use for commercial purposes since 2007.
Drones are allowed in other countries and have been used in such films as the James Bond movie "Skyfall" and this summer's release, "Transformers: Age of Extinction."
The FAA has put off issuing regulations on commercial use out of concern that doing so could create safety hazards for conventional commercial aircraft.
The decision will be welcomed by the entertainment industry and the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which said such a move would allow for more nimble filmmaking and minimize the use of helicopters, which can be dangerous.
Last year, three people were killed when a helicopter crashed in Acton during filming of a reality TV show for Discovery Channel.
The FAA approved waiver requests from Astraeus Aerial, Aerial MOB, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision Inc., RC Pro Productions Consulting, and Snaproll Media. The FAA said it was still reviewing a request from a seventh company that sought a waiver, Flying-Cam Inc. To receive the exemptions, the firms had to show their drone operations would not pose a public safety threat.
The decision was announced Thursday at a news conference in Washington attended by Foxx, MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd, and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
"The applicants submitted UAS flight manuals with detailed safety procedures that were a key factor in our approval of their requests," Huerta said in the statement. "We are thoroughly satisfied these operations will not pose a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground."
The agency said it is considering 40 requests for exemptions from other commercial entities.