Geoff Kelly

Video Guy

Drones are becoming an extremely popular tool in the world of video production and are often referred to as the “unmanned aircraft”. A pilot’s license is required to operate them, but, weighing in at no more than 55 pounds, there is no pilot on deck. The decreasing cost of entry, combined with advances in technology that make them easy to fly, have made drones an attractive addition to video production companies, inspectors, construction managers, manufacturers, emergency rescue crews and hobbyists. They open up a large, new array of video shooting capabilities that would previously be reserved for huge budget shoots.


With drones, we are now able to shoot from nearly any height without the use of piloted aircraft or enormous, bulky cranes. We are able to reach down into valleys, up to the tops of wind turbines, or across vast expanses of farmland to admire the views, inspect operations, and monitor the growth of crops. All in a very cost effective and safe manner.


Their gain in popularity has also brought safety and privacy issues to light. There have been numerous incidents of “near misses” reported by aircraft pilots; fly-away incidents, most notably at the White House; and cases of people shooting at drones claimed to be invading privacy. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been working to come up with a solution to the safety issue, while also weighing in on privacy precedent set by policy governing traditional piloted aircraft.


The FAA has a requirement that all drones used for commercial purposes, i.e. not for hobby, must be registered with them. Furthermore, any company that flies a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) commercially must obtain what’s known as a 333 Exemption:

By law, any aircraft operation in the national airspace requires a certificated and registered aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operational approval. Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) (PDF) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS). This authority is being leveraged to grant case-by-case authorization for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations prior to the finalization of the Small UAS Rule, which will be the primary method for authorizing small UAS operations once it is complete. (1)


Some of the safety guidelines that must be met if flying a UAV commercially (for a complete list, click here):

  • Must fly in the daylight
  • Must not fly above 400 feet without notifying Air Traffic Control
  • Must maintain a direct line-of-sight, unaided by anything other than corrective lenses
  • No flying in national parks
  • No flying directly over people
  • No flights within 4 miles of an airport
  • Pilot must have a pilot’s license
  • Must have a separate video operator so the pilot’s only responsibility is flight

Failure to comply with obtaining the 333 Exemption can have some very serious consequences. In October of 2015, the FAA proposed a 1.9 million dollar fine against SkyPan International for approximately 65 unauthorized flights in New York and Chicago. The company was allegedly flying drones that lacked the communications and reporting requirements set forth by the FAA, while the company failed to obtain air traffic control clearance to fly in the tightly restricted Class B airspace.

We don’t want to let any of this scare you, but instead inform you! Pic Two Productions, Nehlsen’s sister company, is currently in the process of obtaining a 333 Exemption and registering our DJI Inspire 1 UAV. They are also working toward obtaining Sport Pilot Licensing in order to be fully compliant with FAA regulations. As regulations change, we’ll keep you informed.

1 Federal Aviation Administration

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