NFL First League to Win FAA Permission for Drones

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted the NFL permission to use drones for filming, making the NFL the first American major professional sports league to obtain such latitude.

The FAA’s September 17 letter came in response to petitions from NFL Productions LLC’s attorneys on May 20, 2015 and August 11, 2015 asking for an exemption to conduct aerial videography and closed-set motion picture and television filming by using an unmanned aircraft system (UAS). NFL Productions asked to use the DJI Phantom 1, DJI Phantom 2, and DJI Inspire 1.

The FAA wrote, “The enhanced safety achieved using an unmanned aircraft (UA) with the specifications described by the petitioner and carrying no passengers or crew, rather than a manned aircraft of significantly greater proportions, carrying crew in addition to flammable fuel, gives the FAA good cause to find that the UAS operation enabled by this exemption is in the public interest.”

The FAA stated that the conditions and limitations of the drones’ use included:

  1. They must weigh less than 55 pounds, including payload;
  2. They may be used for closed-set motion picture and television filming;
  3. They must not exceed 100 mph;
  4. They must not exceed 400 feet above ground level;
  5. All flights must utilize a visual operator;
  6. They must be within visual line of sight of the pilot-in-charge and visual operator at all times; they must be able to communicate verbally at all times.
  7. The drone pilot must submit a written flight plan three days before filming.

The FAA decision precludes the use of drones during games; still, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy expressed his gratitude, stating, “NFL Films has a long history of embracing and employing the latest technology to tell its inimitable stories. NFL Films will use the unique visual images captured by drones to enhance their filmmaking and story-telling. They will be used when there are no people present for scenic shots for productions such as NFL Films Presents and Together We Make Football pieces on the Today Show.”

Over the summer, the FAA investigated the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins for their use of drones.


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