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To Permit or Not to Permit

In the early days of commercial drone use—say two years ago—most local government agencies took a prescriptive approach to done operation in their jurisdictions.  Many cities and even State agencies adopted blanket prohibitions against drone use—or at least against drone use in specified areas.  Now agencies more and more are asking themselves whether such broad prohibitions are practical, enforceable, or even necessary.  As a result, permitting mechanisms are beginning to spring up.  So far, permitting requirements for compliance are often very stringent.  Some jurisdictions are following the model of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).  Caltrans requires the following—even if it grants a permit in the first instance—as a condition of granting a filming permit over Caltrans streets or highways.

  • Drone filling must be over a closed set.
  • The radius constituting the mandatory closed set must include 500-feet beyond any point of the roadway.
  • Drone pilots (with the approval of Caltrans) may decrease the perimeter of the closed set only if barriers or structures are present that would sufficiently protect nonparticipating persons from the Drone and/or debris in the event of an accident.
  • Traffic Control will be enforced from both directions.
  • Filming may be required to occur in very short intervals—1-3 minutes—to minimize traffic interruptions.
  • Productions must work with all applicable city jurisdictions to facilitate the closing of all relevant over-crossings and under-crossings during filming with a Drone.
  • If the road to be closed for Drone filming is adjacent to a beach or park, permission must also be granted from the Park’s film liaison.

These restrictions make sense, but do mean that a small-scale drone video shoot may take on some of the characteristics of a bigger budget Hollywood movie.  Don’t forget Craft Services!