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Cinema drone firm gets first FAA waiver

 Albuquerque-based Flytcam Motion Pictures was given a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly over cast and crew on film locations

Albuquerque-based Flytcam Motion Pictures was given a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly over cast and crew on film locations. (Courtesy of Rip Williams Photography)

An Albuquerque-based company is the first cinema drone company to get a waiver granted by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly over casts and crews on film locations.

Flytcam Motion Pictures was founded in late 2011 and since has been part of many New Mexico film and TV productions.

With the FAA waiver, the company is leading a new wave in the industry.

The waiver will help provide filmmakers to get aerial views while shooting footage for a production, which adds to the overall production.

“People are asking us how we were able to get it,” said Luke T. Davis, Flytcam managing partner. “We’re excited that a small New Mexico company is leading the way in the industry.”

The waiver is similar to that of CNN, which got a waiver in October to fly over people. The waiver allows CNN to fly the Vantage Robotics Snap UAS in a diverse range of environments, including operations over open-air assemblies (crowds) of people, up to an altitude of 150 feet above ground level (AGL).

Davis and crew worked with the FAA for a few years in helping write regulations for drone flying.

The revised FAA regulation – Part 107 – states drone flights over any person other than the aircrew have been prohibited, making technical drone flights around cast members, stunts, and crew challenging or impossible to accomplish.

Previously, companies such as Flytcam have had to operate under a previous exemption – with most having expired under the new rules for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or drones, that were published in August of 2016. Additionally, the old exemptions required a certified “manned aircraft pilot” to fly a drone versus the new rules’ “remote pilot” certification.

“We’re working with ‘Better Call Saul’ and NBC Universal,” Davis said. “We have to follow the rules to a T. We were worried about what was going to happen when the exemptions expired at the end of the year. With the waiver, we’re able to continue to work within all the guidelines.”

Davis said the waiver is a great development not only for Flytcam, but for other professional aerial cinema companies and the film industry.

He said working with the FAA and the International Cinematographers Guild helped to ensure the safety of everyone on set.

“Yes, we are the first waiver and I’m sure the FAA will grant more,” he said. “The waiver helps ensure that everyone is safe. I was at Zozobra this year and there were six drones in the air, ignoring the FAA rules, which prohibits drones over a crowd. The FAA is starting to crack down on this, and the waivers help keep track of it all.”