The National Football League is the latest commercial entity to receive an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly unmanned aircraft systems.
The FAA granted the league — specifically its NFL Films unit, which produces the league’s non-live segments — permission last week to use drones to film documentaries and films. But the exemption comes with a catch.
While the NFL is the first major sports league allowed to fly drones over its stadiums, the league cannot film during games or when crowds are gathered in the stadiums.
“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,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement to the Washington Post. “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.”
The exemption comes as several NFL teams, like the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and New York Giants, have gotten grief from the FAA for using drones in practice scenarios to give coaches an eye in the sky for film study. The Giants even promoted it in a news article on the team’s official blog, despite it being illegal.
With an empty stadium below, NFL Films’ drones must also adhere to a few more rules: They can’t exceed a total payload of 55 pounds, speeds of 100 mph or altitudes higher than 400 feet, and must adhere to other UAS restrictions, like restricting flight out of the pilot’s line of sight, at night or within 5 nautical miles of airport.