Talks & Interviews — March 15, 2013 at 1:14 am

UAV manufacturers talk to BZFilm regarding use of drones in Hollywood (exclusive)

drone-1A few things that most people know about UAVs (or Unmanned aerial vehicle) is that they’re remotely controlled, and are often used in the army, bot not for shooting movies. Well, that might change some day.

Some time ago it was reported that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is trying to get permission from the federal government to legally use UAVs for shooting movies in Hollywood, according to a lobbying disclosure report.

The MPAA’s lobbying efforts are aimed at reducing legal confusion about filmmakers using UAVs for aerial shots.

Using unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial purposes is currently banned, but the FAA is working on integrating drones into the U.S. airspace. The FAA plans to formally offer private drone licenses by 2015.

A spokesman for the MPAA, Howard Gantman told The Hill that having a drone film some scenes can be cheaper, safer and more useful than relying on traditional techniques such as a helicopter or crane.

Drones are currently being quietly used for aerial shoots in Hollywood, causing fears that crane operators could lose lucrative filming gigs.

So how do UAV manufacturers see this idea?

Jordi Santacana, director of a private Spanish company “CATUAV” that specializes in Earth observation using UAVs believes that sooner or later UAVs will be used for commercial purposes.

Speaking of the requirements needed to operate an UAV on the movie set, Santacana said it’s quite complicated.

“First of all you need insurance and permision, and after that it’s useful to follow standard aeronautical procedures for the bigger UAVs,” he told BZFilm.

Using UAVs could be quite costly for a film studio, as Santacana said it depends on the type of the UAV used.

“It depends on the kind of UAV used. Could be as expensive as a manned airplane, but could provide different views,” he said, adding that weight of the UAV and the way it’s operated are also important factors.

drone-2Reuben Lowing, president of the Halberd Corporation – a manufacturer of both short and long-range Unmanned Aircraft, believes that using UAVs is quite safe.

“There is no pilot who would be injured if they fall out of the sky,” he told BZFilm. “Most crashes happen while landing, and with the technology, using the auto pilots the possibility of crashing is greatly reduced.”

Speaking of the prices on UAVs, Lowing noted that the difference between manned and unmanned aircrafts is significant.

“In Lancaster California they are flying a Cessna 172 10 hours a day five days a week for $90,000 a month. I can do the same job without UAS for $30,000 per month and the majority of that is to pay the pilot to fly it,” Lowing explained. “We also have a financing arm with insurance to replace the UAS and technology if they were to crash.”

Regarding the special requirements, Lowing noted that there are some details that need to be taken into consideration.

“If you stay below 400 feet and below 55 lbs, there are no special requirements. You fall under the RC aircraft rules. If you don’t sell the footage that you collect, you do not need a COA (Council On Accreditation),” he said.

Regarding the lifting of the ban on commercial use of UAVs, Lowing said the FAA is approving 11 states to govern their own airspace for Unmanned Systems.

“As of February 1st, Alaska is open for commercial use of unmanned systems. The rest of the country will soon follow,” he told BZFilm. “I know Oklahoma, Nevada, Florida, North Dakota, Ohio, Alaska, Texas and Michigan are all in the process of getting approved.”

“If you are selling the data/footage, that is what makes in commercial, you need a operator with a pilot’s license or at least the FAA ground school and training from the specific UAS manufacture that is being operated,” he said.

“If you are not selling the data, stay below 400′ and under 55lbs you fall under the Remote Control/hobbie rules and the FAA wouldn’t care,” he noted.

There are a lot of UAV models being manufactured, of various sizes, with various capabilities and options. Like it has already been mentioned, a lot depends on what kind of UAV to use for shooting.

Canadian “Aeryon Labs Inc.” provides small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) and integrated solutions for military, commercial and public safety applications. Company’s Marketing Communications Manager Jennifer Battler spoke to BZFilm about advantages of using small UAVs.

“Our Aeryon Scout™ model is is extremely easy-to-use, safer, faster, less expensive and more accurate for collecting aerial imagery,” she said. “It actually handles most of the flying automatically, so anyone can learn to operate it in only a few minutes time.”

Battler added that the UAV has built-in fail safes for automatic home return, and it can also be set up to follow automatic flights.

“It operates in high winds and extreme weather. It has been tested in the harshest environments so it can operate reliably in many environments,” she noted.

drone-3Battler added that a commercial unit of the Aeryon Scout™ starts at approximately $60,000 – which isn’t bad, considering that it would have served on numerous film productions.

A studio however won’t be able to purchase an UAV and start using it, there are certain laws that have to be considered.

“Aviation Authorities around the world are integrating unmanned aircraft into civilian airspace and each jurisdiction has its own rules and regulations,” Battler said.

As she said, in the U.S., to operate sUAS, one must acquire a Certificate of Authorization (COA) through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and those certificates are only granted to federal, state and local government agencies and restrict flying to specific areas.

Speaking of using UAVs (regardless of sizes) for commercial purposes, Battler noted that many markets globally are open with established regulations.

“The US market is regulated restricted and they are currently following a process to open the use of sUAS into domestic airspace,” she said. “Currently only public agencies can fly while the FAA develops further rules and implements regulations surrounding the use of UAS. We can expect to see a continuation of a positive, proactive approach to the development of operational procedures.”

Another Canadian company, “Draganfly Innovations Inc.”, which specializes in Innovative UAV Aircraft & Aerial Video Systems™ told BZFilm that using an UAV on set is not as easy as it might seem.

“Some UAV systems can be very safe and slow moving,the rotors operate at very low speeds and have no amount of interia to cause serious injury, while other systems move faster, and with enough inertia to cause serious injury or death,” company’s police and industrial sales department manager Kevin Lauscher told BZFilm.

“It is incumbent upon the operators and set managers to have safety procedures in place to ensure the protection of all who are working around or with UAVs,” he said.

Lauscher added that pilots or operators must be competent, producers and directors must know the limitations and hazards of the systems they are using and take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of all who would be in or could be in the operating proximity of the system, this includes  all indoor and outdoor venues.

Just as others, Lauscher believes the ban on using UAVs will eventually be lifted.

“It will probably be lifted in stages with  restrictions allowing for light weight systems (under 5 lbs or so) to be utilized first,” he said.

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