Section 333 Exemption

Commercial Drone Law for Film & TV Production

Note: The FAA just recently changed (3/7/2016) some of the language on their exemptions so this presentation is about 95% accurate.

Are you interested in using commercial drones in TV/movie production?  This video is specifically geared to the TV/movie production industry.

You’ll learn:

  • How do people or companies commercially operate drones?
  • Why do I need a Section 333 Exemption?
  • What are some of the restrictions in a Section 333 Exemption?
  • Myths that put production companies at risk.
  • Common myths surrounding the Section 333 exemptions.
  • Things you can NOT do under a Section 333 exemption and your Blanket COA.
  • Curent federal enforcement from the FAA and other agencies as well as state and local law enforcement.
  • Tips on vetting drone companies to making sure they are in complaince with what the FAA says.
  • The FAA’s future proposed commercial drone rules.
  • Operations that will NOT be allowed under the future proposed commercial drone rules.

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About HUB

As a Top 10 insurance broker in the world, HUB International is a trusted provider of personal, commercial and health insurance services. HUB Entertainment specializes in providing insurance solutions to film, TV & internet production companies, touring artists & bands, concert promoters, live event producers, theatrical productions and video game publishers and developers.  Please visit us at to get a quote for aviation insurance if you are using a drone in your business.


Short list of things a 333 operator canNOT do under their stock 333 and blanket COA

I was recently asked, “What can a drone operator with a 333 NOT do when flying for cinematography purposes?”  Here is a partial list of some of the things that a 333 operator cannot do.  These are the most common types of violations I see.


Under the current 333 exemptions being given out, a drone operator cannot:

  • Fly at night (flying after civil twilight which is roughly around 20 minutes after sunset).
  • Fly within 500ft of non-participating and unprotected individuals, unless they have closed-set approval and those individuals are considered “participating” (actors) under the motion picture manual.
  • Fly aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds
  • Allow the drone pilot to fly when he does not have an FAA sport pilot license or higher license
  • Fly a drone while in a moving vehicle
  • Fly a drone that is not listed on their exemption
  • Fly a drone that is not registered


Under their blanket certificate of authorization or waiver (COA), a drone operator cannot:

  • Fly unless they have filed a notice to airman AND waited 24 hours
  • Fly over 200 feet above the ground
  • Fly within 5 nautical miles of an operational towered airport
  • Fly within 3 nautical miles from an airport having a published instrument flight procedure, but not having an operational control tower; or
  • Fly within 2 nautical miles from an airport not having a published instrument flight procedure or an operational control tower; or
  • Fly within 2 nautical miles from a heliport, gliderport or seaplane base; or
  • Fly near Power Plants, Electric Substations, Dams, Wind Farms, Oil Refineries, Industrial Complexes, National Parks, The Disney Resorts, Stadiums, Emergency Services, the Washington DC Metro Flight Restricted Zone, Military or other Federal Facilities.


Keep in mind that the 333’s being given out give these restrictions. They can be changed if an “equivalent level of safety” is shown.  Also, an individual can get a COA to fly near an airport, but the operator must put in an application that is site specific to the airport.  If you don’t like these restrictions, you can try and change them. They are NOT set in stone.


Monthly COA Reporting

COA reports

If you have a 333 with a blanket COA, you have to report your monthly activity even if you did NOT fly. Yes, I know this stinks because I myself have a 333 and have to report each month. The FAA’s COA website says, “The Monthly Operational report is expected to be submitted within 5 business days after end of the reporting month.”

Thankfully, these requirements are not in Part 107 going forward. However, there are NTSB and FAA reporting requirements if your drone happens to crash. Better to read and know them BEFORE you crash so you are not fumbling around if the situation happens.

Do we have a continuing obligation to report once we all switch over to Part 107 and stop using our 333s? Strictly speaking, yes, because the 333 and COA are still valid and the COA requires you to report even when you do not fly. I would continue to do it until the FAA tells you to stop or until the exemption expires 2 years after the grant date. You can find your expiration date by looking at the last page of your exemption.

Filing reports shouldn’t be much trouble if you set up an alert in your schedule or digital calendar to remind you at the end of each month.

SHARE! You should let your friends know about their monthly reporting requirements. Simply click one of the social media or email buttons located above or below to share with your friends.


Reporting Requirements from the Blanket COA

1. Documentation of all operations associated with UAS activities is required regardless of the airspace in which the UAS operates. NOTE: Negative (zero flights) reports are required.
2. The operator must submit the following information through mailto: [email protected] on a monthly basis:

a. Name of Operator, Exemption number and Aircraft registration number
b. UAS type and model.
c. All operating locations, to include location city/name and latitude/longitude
d. Number of flights (per location, per aircraft)
e. Total aircraft operational hours
f. Takeoff or Landing damage
g. Equipment malfunctions. Reportable malfunctions include, but are not limited to the following:

(1) On-board flight control system
(2) Navigation system
(3) Powerplant failure in flight
(4) Fuel system failure
(5) Electrical system failure
(6) Control station failure

3. The number and duration of lost link events (control, performance and health monitoring, or communications) per UA per flight.

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Participating individuals, non-participating individuals, and the 500ft bubble.


This area is causing all sorts of confusion for individuals. How close can you get to people? When can I get within 500ft of a person? Can I fly at a concert or football game? Can I fly over people?

Here is a quote from the exemption from one of my closed-set 333 clients.

26. All Flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all nonparticipating persons, vessels, vehicles, and structures unless:
a. Barriers or structures are present that sufficiently protect nonparticipating persons from the UA and/or debris in the event of an accident. The operator must ensure that nonparticipating persons remain under such protection. If a situation arises where nonparticipating persons leave such protection and are within 500 feet of the UA, flight operations must cease immediately in a manner ensuring the safety of nonparticipating persons; and
b. The owner/controller of any vessels, vehicles or structures has granted permission for operating closer to those objects and the PIC has made a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer to those objects and determined that it does not present an undue hazard.
The PIC, VO, operator trainees or essential persons are not considered nonparticipating persons under this exemption.

The exemption does not indicate if this is a slant angle 500ft bubble or a  500ft ground circle. Functionally, there isn’t much of a difference here. If you look at the graph I created, at 200 ft (the max height for a blanket COA), the closest ground distance would be 458.3 ft. There is a 41.7 foot difference in interpretation. The two different interpretations only start mattering once you can start operating above the blanket COA.

The 500ft bubble is a pretty big bubble. Here is a graph of a 500ft slant angle bubble.

graph of 500 foot bubble in 333 exemption


This bubble is going to prevent many urban and “in town” operations; however, later in the exemption’s conditions and limitations only applicable to operations for the purpose of closed-set motion picture and television filming and production, it says:

31. Flight operations may be conducted closer than 500 feet from participating persons consenting to be involved and necessary for the filming production, as specified in the exemption holder’s MPTOM.

Mere aerial data collection operations do NOT have these conditions. Closed-set acts like an “upgraded” version of aerial data collection.

So then who is a participating individual?

The FAA defines Participating Person/Authorized Person as,  “All persons associated with the filming production must be briefed on the potential risk of the proposed flight operation(s) and they must acknowledge and accept those risks. Nonparticipating persons are the public, spectators, media, etc., not associated with the filming production.” (Emphasis mine).

The only way you are going to get within 500ft is if the people are participating people, you are cleared for closed-set operations, and you are abiding by your motion picture manual.