Touchdown! The NFL gets approval to fly drones

The National Football League has won approval to use drones for filming, opening up a new way to get aerial imagery. But the permit limits flights to when stadiums are empty, which rules out sending unmanned aircraft aloft during games.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved NFL Films, the video production arm of the NFL, on Sept. 17. With the approval, the NFL is now the first major sports league that can legally fly drones, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday.

However, it may still be a while before it can put cameras aloft during games. The same goes for delivering hot dogs and sodas to fans.

The NFL can only fly drones when stadiums are empty, NFL Films’ outside counsel Kurt Wimmer told Bloomberg.

In the FAA letter, the administration explained that it’s safer for the NFL to use drones for filming rather than using piloted aircraft. Because drones don’t carry passengers and “flammable fuel,” there’s less chance of a major catastrophe.

The FAA said that it “is in the public interest” for the administration to grant the NFL a permit to use drones.

Like other companies that have won FAA approval to use drones, the NFL must adhere to a list of operational guidelines. For example, drones must not be larger than 55 pounds, they can’t fly higher than 400 feet, and they must stay in the line of sight of operators at all times

The NFL is the latest business to successfully petition the FAA for the commercial use of flying drones. The FAA has so far issued over 1,400 drone permits to U.S.-based businesses, including real estate firms, insurance companies, and Hollywood film studios. Earlier this month, a small drone startup called Measure won FAA approval to fly a fleet of 324 drones to collect data.

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