The U.S. government has begun lifting commercial restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft, allowing six movie and television production companies to film scenes with small drones.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, speaking Thursday, described the move as “a significant milestone” in expanding commercial drone use.
Until now, the Federal Aviation Administration has banned all commercial drone operations outside of oil fields in sparsely-populated Alaska, citing safety risks to both private and commercial aircraft in U.S. airspace.
The new FAA permits limit the drone use to restricted areas, and require an operator to hold a private pilot’s license. Ground operators will also be required to fly the small aircraft at altitudes below 122 meters during daylight hours only.
Dozens of other industries have also applied to use drones. Companies want to use them to inspect pipelines, oil platforms and bridges, and to spray crops. Online retailer Amazon wants to deliver packages, while commercial realtors, news organizations and many others are seeking to use them as well.
The U.S. Congress in 2012 directed aviation officials to formulate plans for drone use in U.S. airspace. That directive extended from tiny drones weighing a few kilograms to giant unmanned vehicle surveillance aircraft.
The FAA is facing an October 2015 deadline to complete those plans.