After much concern and discussion, the Federal Aviation Administration has finally granted the NFL permission to use drones on a limited basis to record practice footage.
The NFL is the first major sports organization to receive permission from the FAA to fly drones over its playing fields — but the use of the little whirly-birds at games will remain strictly prohibited.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said guidelines set by the FAA state that the drones will not be used on the day of games. The league prohibits the use of drones on game day in stadiums and in parking lots.
McCarthy said NFL Films will be allowed to use drones and teams may film their own practices if they comply with local, state and federal guidelines.
"NFL Films will use the unique visual images captured by drones to enhance their filmmaking and storytelling," McCarthy said.
Last October, the FAA issued notice that it's illegal to fly drones near Major League Baseball, NFL and NCAA Division I college football games, and major auto races. Other sporting events can put their own bans in place. But the penalties for violating a ban — and who hands out the punishment — are still unclear.
And it's not just the circumstances when flying a drone over a football field will be permitted, but the makes and models that can be used.
Only three models of DJI Phantom, a popular camera-toting quadcopter line, can be used, only during the day and with strict supervision and proper permits. But the biggest limitation is that drones can't be used during games.
In January, ESPN cleared numerous regulatory hurdles so it could have drones with cameras follow skiers and snowboarders down the hill for the Winter X Games.
The network got approval only by assuring it would not fly the drones over spectators or in the air space of planes flying in and out of a nearby airport.
And in June, Fox experimented with a four-wheel ground robot with a camera strapped on top during its coverage of golf's U.S. Open to mixed reviews.