Top Questions When Hiring A Drone Company

There are a lot of questions we get when someone wants to hire Aerial Cinematography with HABANA. President and Founder Steven J. Levy and Director of Photography Jordy Klein Jr. answer the most Frequently Asked Questions.


The most important question: Do you have your FAA 333 Exemption?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “Absolutely. Never hire a crew that doesn’t have this exemption because you run the risk of receiving a fine from the FAA.”

Steven J. Levy: “We are proud to be have been the first in Florida and 22nd in the nation to receive our FAA exemption. With the help of veteran FAA-licensed HABANA's Drone Division pilot Mark Eberle, we built a flight operations plan that is best in class and focuses safety first.”

Have you ever crashed during a shoot?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “I love this question. It always makes me laugh – people’s reactions are priceless when you ask them this. It’s like asking a camera operator if he’s ever dropped a camera during a shoot. In reality, anyone who says “I never crash” doesn’t know what they’re talking about…or they’ve never actually flown a UAS. While I have never actually crashed an aircraft on a shoot, I have certainly had my share of mishaps during the testing of new hardware.”

Steven J. Levy: “We are fortunate to have never have crashed a UAV on a shoot. All the credit goes to our expert pilots, flight crew, and risk assessment process.”

Do you bring a spare aircraft or spare parts for your drone in case you have a minor accident?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “Always – unless it’s cost prohibitive. If I’m unable to bring a spare drone because of shipping costs or space, I’ll bring all major components needed to repair it in case of an accident. Don’t listen to someone saying their drones are “state of the art” and “never have problems” because that’s just not true. They’re all made of electronic parts from China and are usually hobby-grade. You may only get one flight out of your drone or you could get a thousand. It’s kind of like playing Russian Roulette.”

Steven J. Levy: “We’re fortunate to have UAV engineers on our team who are also flight techs that join us on set and keep us safe — to answer the question, we always bring spare, air frames, batteries and propellers, not to mention an extra UAV— it’s in our nature to always come prepared.”

What kind of parts do you bring?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “I always have spare propellers, motors, electronic speed controllers, motor arms, and a flight controller on hand. You should always ask your crew what kind of flight controller they use. If they don’t know, that’s a HUGE red flag.”

Steven J. Levy: “We bring so much that in almost every case, we could totally rebuild an aircraft if necessary — again it’s in our nature to always come prepared.”

Okay. What kind of flight controller do you use?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “I’m not sure…JUST KIDDING. Most people just use DJI Flight controllers. The most common low end DJI controller is the Naza, the high and would be the WooKong and A2. All of these are good controllers. FreeFly also makes really nice aircraft and controllers; most other controllers on the market are just DJI copycats.”

Steven J. Levy: “I agree and prefer WooKong flight controllers.”

How many battery packs do you need to bring?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: I usually bring 6. That’s the magic number. I bring 6 memory cards as well. I always change the memory card between flights. It would suck if you had an incident and lost all the footage from previous flights just because you didn’t change cards.

Steven J. Levy: “We bring a minimum of 6 batteries and two chargers. We either want to be flying a battery or charging it. We need to acquire as much footage as possible for every client.”

Is that usually what it takes to last the whole day?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “Yes, that’s usually plenty – even if the client is asking for repetitive flights that always lasts me. Even so, I always bring a small Honda generator with me to these shoots to charge the batteries on-site if I need to. My generator can charge up to three packs at a time. You can also use a car battery, but it’s nowhere near as fast. If you don’t have a generator I highly recommend purchasing one – you can even rent one from a place like Home Depot if you need.”

Steven J. Levy: “A reliable power source is a non-negotiable.”

What kind of video downlink do you have?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “The DJI Light Bright is pretty common, and the best to use is a Connex. Both of these are high end HD transmitters. Some people use Standard Definition transmitters because of how reliable they are but…they’re SD.”

Steven J. Levy: “We definitely prefer an HD downlink on every job, when given a choice.”

Do you have a second monitor for the client to see the video?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “Always. I have a 15” monitor that I bring for clients to look off of and to keep them from constantly looking over my shoulder at my monitor. Both of my monitors run off the same batteries as my aircraft.”

Steven J. Levy: “Again, at this level, it would be amateurish o fly without a monitor for Director and Client feedback.  It’s necessary!”

Do you have insurance?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “I sure do.”

Steven J. Levy: “Absolutely.”

And it covers the aircraft camera?

Jordan Klein, Jr.: “It does indeed cover the aircraft camera. Crashes can happen and a crew should never ask the client to recoup money for an accident. I certainly never would.”

Steven J. Levy “We do our homework. We make sure that anything that can go wrong in the air is covered. All aerial companies should have insurance. We do, and so should any reputable aerial operation.”

Credit: Crews Control & Jordan Klein, Jr.

Bodies (and Objects) in Motion Require Special Handling

Directors and EPs agree that creating or scoring for action and sports content has unique demands.

It’s clear that what constitutes action and sports content has been re-defined in this new age of social media and video sharing.

Whether you’re talking about traditional action or sports ads that incorporate game footage from baseball, basketball, tennis or soccer (football to the rest of the world), or if what you’re watching is more amateur or extreme – anything from skateboarding films to wing suits comes to mind – there’s a new set of rules that dictate what it has to look like and sound like. It’s got to reek of realism and be rooted in pop culture, our experts say, in order to stand even the slightest chance of breaking through.

Bicoastal content production company HABANA, led by President and Founder Steven J. Levy, has created everything from show opens to live events to Super Bowl parties to branded content, programs and spots for a range of brands, ad agencies and media companies.

Passing the Authenticity Test

When it comes to action, authenticity is critical. In today’s online society of fans and trolls, no one can afford to put out content that looks faked or staged, or they’ll get called on it – and quick.

Making sure action and sports content passes the sniff test means knowing where and how it’s going to be seen.

“The single focus I have for making sure our work is recognized is to truly understand where each client will distribute the content that they’ve entrusted us to produce, and to completely understand the content channel landscape,” explains HABANA Avenue’s Steven J. Levy. “As content producers, we can no longer just go shoot a storyboard! We need to understand how and why individual broadcast and social channels are successful.”

Their approach at HABANA is to request a detailed brief on every project they handle, Levy adds, “and if one doesn’t exist we’ll create it for ourselves. It deeply informs every creative inquiry along the journey.”

Zooming In on the Action

Perhaps nowhere has the revolution in camera technology had a bigger impact than in sports and action content. Producers and directors can now get shots that were unthinkable just a few years ago. For everyone – even those selecting the score or soundtrack – the impact has been huge.

HABANA’s Levy points out that his company was one of the first in the country to be FAA-approved for UAV or drone camera platforms.

“Our teams have shot everything from Dodge performance brands to NBC’s Sunday Night Football,” he says. “And while there are still some stigmas attached to exactly which model camera you’re using, our approach is to match the best available technology to achieve the desired outcome. The capability of this gear is advancing at an exponential rate. We embrace it, as long as the technology helps us to tell a better story.”

Epic Heroes, Epic Sounds

Years ago it was the introduction of the X Games on ESPN that shifted the creation of action and sports content into an ‘extreme’ mode. One trend driving the category seems to be the continued linking of music with teams, broadcasts, brands and events.

“Adweek claimed recently that there’s been no better time for the fusion of music and sports than now,” says Levy. “At HABANA, we’ve been impressed by the network musical directors and creative directors we work with, who’ve seen the passionate sweet spots where music and sport unite and are capitalizing on it. These are mostly unheralded matchmakers who are equally passionate about their craft, and it shows in the kind of content you’re seeing.”

Adweek’s report called out four recent music and sports related projects as evidence of this trend, and two of them – Fall Out Boy’s tie in with ESPN’s college football coverage and the involvement of supergroup U2 on the network’s FIFA World Cup coverage – were produced byHABANA.  (Check out the entire report here.)

Media Channels Shift Gears

As you might expect, the surge in sports and action content has kept many of the companies that specialize in it busy, as all of our sponsors report.  But there’s more than just the greater volume of work driving this; fundamental shifts in how sports programming and ads are consumed is impacting the trend as well.

“Traditionally, sports media has always been a stable growth business,” says Levy. “The past year has seen a lot of shifting. Larger distributors of content are being forced to deal with the revenue loss of cable TV’s cord-cutters, and the move from subscription-based cable packages to on-demand personal and mobile viewing is exposing a slow adoption by decision-makers in the sports tech space.”

Where this is going is almost anyone’s guess, but Levy says the trick for companies like his is to keep their focus on quality. “There will be a lot of knee-jerk reactions to try and keep-up, but the bright lights of the genre will always illuminate the deeply passionate stories of ‘rags to riches’ and ‘David versus Goliath’ that only sports can deliver every day of the year.”

-Written By Anthony Vagnoni for SourceEcreative

FAA Approved Drones For Networks

Few Have FAA Approval To Fly Drones for Your Productions…

HABANA does. We offer:

  • + Promax & Emmy Award Winning
  • + Network Veterans
  • + Short & Long-form Experience
  • + Multiple Aircraft
  • + FAA Approved

What we’ve helped produce…

  • ABC Saturday Night Football (Maroon 5)
  • ESPN College Football Championship (Fall Out Boy)
  • ESPN College Football GameDay (Big & Rich)
  • ESPN College Basketball GameDay (Macklemore)
  • ESPN Monday Night Football (Hank Williams, Jr.)
  • NBC Sunday Night Football (Faith Hill)
  • NBC Super Bowl (Faith Hill)
  • DISCOVERY Shark Week
  • ABC NBA Finals (3D Mapping Experience)
  • ABC NBA Playoffs (Cee Lo Green + Nicole Scherzinger)
  • FOOD NETWORK Iron Chef
  • FIFA World Cup Soccer (U2)
  • FIFA World Cup Women’s Soccer (Katy Perry)
  • ESPN X Games Oakley  (Shawn White)

HABANA is FAA Approved, nimble, and operated by media veterans.

Let’s tell a story together.

Fighting To Catch Up

15 states have drone privacy laws and more are on the way

By Timothy Kidwell, published in Drone 360

The Federal Aviation Adminis­tration (FAA) as late as No­vember 2014 denied a petition asking it to begin rulemaking to govern unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) specifically regarding privacy. The reason (as eluci­dated in a letter to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, one of 100 signatories to the petition): Privacy “is not an imme­diate safety concern.” While this response did not shut the door entirely to rules about privacy, it did signal that the FAA wasn’t as concerned about drones peep­ing in windows as it was about preventing drones from crashing through them.

You might reasonably ask what the U.S. Congress has done, and probably wouldn’t be astonished to learn the answer is not much. The House of Representatives and Senate each introduced a bill to establish privacy rules regarding drones, and murdered both in committees. The plodding federal process can’t keep up with the fast pace of emerg­ing drone technology. However, state legislatures have felt acute pressure from their constituents to do something to curb potential privacy and safety issues, whether from your neighbor’s 16-year-old son crashing a quadcopter into your roof or a sheriff’s deputy flying a 50-pound night-vision-equipped heli to surveil that creepy dude across the street.

As states pass laws governing UAVs, a patchwork of regulations has emerged, ranging from simple moratoriums for use of drones by law enforcement to strict governance for public and private use. This means you might be able to fly a drone and take photos and videos in one state, but can’t do the same activity in another without risking prosecution.

Let’s take a look at the states and what they currently say you can and can’t do with a drone.

According to industry estimates, consumers spent $720 million on drones in 2014, pur­chasing something near 200,000 drones per month worldwide. Privacy concerns, prolifera­tion of tech, unqualified users—what could go wrong? Some states aren’t waiting to find out.


In July 2013, Oregon set limits for both public and private drone use. Law enforcement can  use a drone for surveillance if issued a warrant or during emergencies. Public entities cannot employ weaponized drones (unsurprisingly, neither can private citizens) and, by January 2016, must register all drones with the Oregon Department of Aviation.

For private operators, under the new law, if you fly a drone over an owner’s property at less than 400 feet after the owner tells you not to, the owner can sue you for three times the “damages for any injury to … person or property” and attorney fees.


Utah’s Government Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Act prohibits law enforcement agencies from obtaining data by a UAV unless they have a warrant, are working with exceptions to warrant requirements, or if data pertaining to a crime or emergency is provided by “a nongovernmental actor.”

It also requires that data not relating to a warrant or other acceptable use cannot be copied or disseminated and must be destroyed “as soon as reasonably possible.” Finally, law enforcement agencies must report the number of drones they own and how often they’re flown.


Idaho employed broad language in a bill to curtail drone use. No “person, entity, or state agency” can use a drone to conduct surveillance unless it has a warrant or is in response to emergencies for “safety, search and rescue, or controlled substance investigations.” Further, people can’t use UAVs to “photograph or otherwise record an individual, without such individual’s written consent, for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating such photograph or recording.” Break the law and you may have to pay $1,000 or “actual and general damages,” whichever is greater, plus attorney fees and litigation costs.


As so many drone laws do, Montana’s focuses on law enforcement. Information obtained from a UAV cannot be used as evidence unless authorized by a warrant or obtained “in accordance to judicially recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.”


In addition to language allowing law enforcement to use UAVs in accordance with a warrant, operators and crew must be “trained and certified.” Images can be kept for training and as evidence in an investigation. The law also allows the University of Alaska to develop a UAV training program.


Illinois’ Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act prohibits state law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather information except when countering a “high risk of terrorist attack,” pursuing a search warrant, possessing probable cause requiring “swift action,” attempting to find a missing person, photographing the scene of a crime or traffic accident, or surveying a disaster or public health emergency. The “information gathered by the drone” must be destroyed within 30 days of its capture, unless it’s evidence of criminal activity or part of an ongoing investigation.

Illinois’ Fish and Aquatic Life Code says you can’t use a drone to interfere with “another person’s lawful taking of wildlife or aquatic life.” So, don’t use your UAV to harass hunters or fishermen just because you think it makes for great video.


Enacted in July 2014, Indiana requires police to obtain a warrant in order to use a UAV, unless a police officer determines the use is specifically required due to circumstances “necessitating a warrantless search,” a “substantial” threat of terrorist attack, a search-and-rescue operation, a natural disaster, or a noncriminal geographical or environmental reason.


In Iowa, police can’t use a drone to enforce traffic laws, so don’t expect to see drones hovering around stop signs and crosswalks. But that doesn’t give you the greenlight to push the pedal to the floor!

What’s more, Iowa’s law says information obtained with a UAV without a search warrant is “not admissible as evidence in a criminal or civil proceeding.”


In Wisconsin, it’s a misdemeanor to fly a drone “with the intent to photograph, record, or otherwise observe another individual in a place or location where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Police officers need to obtain a search warrant before gathering information with a drone from a location where someone has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” This prohibition does not extend to public places, search-and-rescue operations, or fugitives on the lam.

And, in case you were wondering, unless you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces or National Guard and acting in an official capacity, don’t fly a weaponized drone in Wisconsin. It’s a felony.


Texas has put together a fairly nuanced drone law. University professors, staff, and students can use UAVs to capture images for “professional or scholarly research,” so long as they do so at the behest of the institution and within an FAA-authorized area. Utilities can employ drones to inspect facilities. You can take a video of a person or property so long as you have permission. Law enforcement has the broadest powers, including: operations pursuant to a warrant, reasonable suspicion, or probable cause; surveying a crime scene; missing- persons investigations; and conducting high-risk tactical operations.

On the flip side, the law makes capturing images of people or private property “with the intent to conduct surveillance” a misdemeanor. (Black’s Law Dictionary defines surveillance as “observation and collection of data to provide evidence for a purpose.”) Should you find yourself afoul of the law, you can defend yourself from prosecution by destroying the image as soon as you realize it was captured and don’t show or share it. Show or share, be ready to face a range of fines.

Also worth noting: Flying a weaponized drone was never mentioned.


Passed unanimously by the Florida House and Senate, and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in 2013, the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act prohibits law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather information except in specific circumstances:

The Secretary of Homeland Security indicates a person or organization poses a high threat of terrorist attack; law enforcement obtains a warrant authorizing use of the drone; or law enforcement has probable cause to think “swift action” is required to prevent death, “facilitate the search for a missing person,” prevent a suspect’s escape, or prevent property damage.


North Carolina’s law prohibits using a drone to “photograph an individual, without the individual’s consent, for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating the photograph.” This doesn’t apply to “newsgathering, newsworthy events, or events or places to which the general public is invited.”

In general, no one, including state agencies and law enforcement (with exceptions such as counterterrorism, obtaining a warrant, or public gatherings), can “conduct surveillance” of people, dwellings, or private property without first getting permission.

People photographed in violation of the statute can seek damages up to $5,000 for each photograph or video taken.

Getting ready to hunt or fish with your quadcopter? Don’t rig up that shotgun just yet. In North Carolina, operating a drone with a weapon attached to it will get you charged with a felony. Hunting or fishing with a drone will add a misdemeanor.

Finally, North Carolina requires state agents to pass a test before they can fly drones, and those interested in commercially flying drones must be licensed by the state.


Tennessee’s drone law almost exactly copies Texas’ nuanced statute. However, Tennessee lawmakers passed an additional law making it illegal for you to use a drone to “conduct surveillance of private citizens who are lawfully hunting or fishing” without first getting their written permission. Who does this?


Virginia, the first state to enact statewide restrictions on drones, imposed a moratorium on drone use in April 2013. Police and regulatory agencies can’t use UAVs except for missing-persons and search-and-rescue operations. It also exempts the National Guard for training but not law enforcement.

In addition, the law also bans the use of weaponized unmanned aerial systems.

Virginia’s moratorium expires later this year, on July 1, 2015.


According to Louisiana’s drone law, it’s illegal to intentionally “conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record a targeted facility” without written permission. If you do, it could mean a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. Do it again, the fine can be up to $2,000 and a year in jail. Something to keep in mind: An “unmanned aerial system” as defined by the law doesn’t pertain to UASs flown by the U.S. federal or state governments, nor local police and fire departments.




Introduced; legislature adjourned without further action


Passed Senate; legislature adjourned without further action


Passed both chambers; vetoed by governor


Died in committee




Passed House; legislature adjourned without further action


Indefinitely postponed


Dead for 2014; referred for interim study


Governor “pocket vetoed” a 2013 bill at the beginning of 2014. Because the bill was passed within the last 10 days of a two-year legislative session, Gov. Chris Christie didn’t veto the law, “pocketing” it instead, which kept it from a possible override vote in the legislature


Passed committee; legislature adjourned without further action


Held for further study


Passed both chambers; vetoed by governor

Originally written By Timothy Kidwell, published in Drone 360

Drone at Stanley Cup Final party causes concerns

TAMPA, FL (WFLA), (sUAS News + HABANA's Drone Division) – A white drone with flashing lights descended from the sky during a Stanley Cup Final party on Amalie Arena’s plaza.

With a camera peering into the crowd, the drone hovered near a large screen showing the game. It then took off.

President and FounderSteven Levy of HABANA is concerned. “That put others in danger, flew over people’s heads, and was potentially an aircraft out of control,” Levy said.

He uses drones to capture amazing video for clients.

Levy worries the person who flew this drone wasn’t able to see it as it zoomed above the hockey fans. “That particular pilot is not in line of sight of that aircraft. They are flying through the camera. That’s extremely dangerous,” he said.

If the pilot had lost contact with the drone, it could’ve gone out of control, Levy added. Just ask Enrique Iglesias. Last week in Mexico the singer grabbed a drone out of the air at a concert. The drone badly sliced his fingers. “They are easy to fly until you lose control,” Levy said.

Others who watched the video agree that a drone should not be flying above a crowd. “I would have been nervous if I was there just what could happen,” Ashley Gaughan said.

Not everyone has a problem with the drone flyover. “I think it’s pretty neat. It’s pretty awesome, actually. Somebody really did that,” Daron Norrington said.


By Oliver Volkmann, published in Drone 360



So you like drones, but if you had to admit it, you probably don’t know that much about them. Not to worry, we’ve got you covered.


LIKE THE NAME SAYS, a multi-rotor aircraft is any aircraft that uses multiple propellers to generate vertical lift.

Multi-rotors are often referred to as vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) platforms. They can hover in place and fly independently of their forward orientation. The ease of control makes multi-rotors a great choice for model aircraft beginners. Generally, a multi-rotor consists of a central core to which a number of arms are attached. The end of each arm houses one or two brush-less electric motors that each drive a fixed-pitch prop.


IN ADDITION TO fixed-wing and helicopter models, you can choose from several different drone types, including:

■ Quadcopter (four motors)
■ Tricopter (three motors)
■ Hexacopter (six motors)
■ Y6 (two motors on each of the three arms)
■ X8 (two motors on each of four arms)
■ Octocopter (eight motors)


FIRST, PICTURE A MULTI-ROTOR hovering in front of you with zero wind conditions. To maintain that position and altitude, its air­frame has to be oriented so the combined thrust of the rotors is constant and vertically centered under the unit’s center of gravity. In addition, the combined thrust of the rotors has to be equal to the weight of the aircraft. Any outside effect disturbing the hover position has to be countered by an adjustment to the direction of the combined thrust delivered by the rotors. To understand the challenge of that task, imagine balancing a broomstick on the tip of your finger: It requires constant repositioning of your finger under that broomstick’s center of gravity to keep it from falling. Tricky, right?

Well, multi-rotor copters make these adjustments automatically by continuously redistributing relative thrust values across the rotors.

If the right-hand side of the platform drops, the unit increases relative thrust from the rotors located on that side of the airframe until it’s level again. We don’t have the multitasking power to manage more than two motors for such a balancing act.

Luckily, we live in an age of powerful, tiny computers and sensors. Every multi-rotor copter has a flight controller, which consists of an inertial measurement unit (IMU) and computer. Gyroscopes and accelerometers inside the IMU measure the cop­ter’s orientation and movement at rates as high as 800Hz (800 times per second). The computer evaluates the information, then calculates and makes thrust adjustments for each motor, all without user input.

Typically, the flight controller makes those adjustments by sending instructions to electronic speed controllers (ESCs), themselves small computers that control how fast a motor spins a rotor. The faster the rotor turns, the more thrust it generates. Unlike pitch-controlled thrust (used on conventional helicopters), most electrically propelled multi-rotors use this hyper-accurate control over rotor speed to adjust relative thrust among the rotors.

By Oliver Volkmann, published in Drone 360

Need A Drone No-Fly Zone Map? We’ve Got You Covered

Communication between aircrafts is crucial. Without the high tech radars and dispatchers, aerial disasters would ensue.

Technology has allowed us to communicate effectively with other pilots to avoid such collisions, though it still confusing for many drone users to understand where they can and cannot fly their aircrafts.

Mapbox has recently created an interactive map called the Drone No-Fly Zone to better answer the question and ensure safety for pilots and aviation control.

Bobby Sudekumit is one of the authors and says it’s a work in progress. It’s set up so if anyone knows of other no-fly zones that aren’t on the map, you can add that data to a public repository they started on GitHub.

The data used is open and represented by the red areas on the map. It currently shows no-fly zones around national parks, military bases and the space around most airports.

The idea is that while the FAA works towards establishing regulations and limitations regarding drone usage, those who elect to use the devices can take steps to avoid potential legal troubles according to Slashgear.

The Future of Drones in Film Making

You’re probably sick of hearing about drones by now – but do you know where they came from and why you’re hearing so much about them lately? Drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used in military operations stemming back to the late 1800s. Only lately have they been available (and affordable enough) for civilian use. 

Its flight is controlled either autonomously by onboard computers or by the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle. Drones have been used by civilians and cinematographers to film sports events, create aerial real estate tours, record weddings, prisoners, marine conservations, monitor animal agriculture and more. But before UAVs can take off as a marketing tool, the Federal Aviation Administration needs to consider rules for commercial users.

An interview with our President and Founder Steven J. Levy was recently featured in an article by The Tampa Tribune regarding the current FAA regulations. You can read the full story here.

The FAA Rules Are in Flux

“The rules for commercial unmanned aircraft systems operation are clear,” Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA, said in a written statement. “Anyone who wants to fly an aircraft — manned or unmanned — in U.S. airspace needs some level of authorization from the FAA.”

But the enforcement of these rules doesn’t apply equally to all UAV operators.  The FAA has been clear that drones used by hobbyists, and flown below 400 feet, are just fine as long as the drones don’t violate privacy or safety. Commercial users on the other hand, below 400 feet or not, can face hefty fines

The FAA is now accepting applications for exemption from their regulations, and applications are pouring in.  In its guidelines for seeking exemptions, the FAA requires certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval. 

We’re Working On It.

Habana's Drone Division has filed an exemption application to become the first in Hillsborough to get FAA approval to use a drone and a film commission permit to do so. The FAA grants exemptions from its drone ban on a case-by-case basis, but they’ve been slow in processing or awarding so far.

We are not hobbyists but professionally trained. We do not need the exemption to use the drones, but if the FAA granted us one it would show that we are in a class above the rest,
— Steven J. Levy, Habana President and Founder

Habana uses an FAA-certified pilot and team on set whenever a drone is used. The company owns 12 drones weighing 5 to 17 pounds each that are used on productions around the world including "The Blacklist". They are all currently flying and operating within the law. 


Changing the world of film

Drones provide something that helicopters can’t: proximity flying. There are places where it’s safer to fly a UAV than a helicopter. A drone can stay with a vehicle motorcyclist, skateboarder – whomever. It’s already changing the way humans experience all kinds of life and cinematography.

We’ve never been able to stay with a subject without cutting [footage]. Drone photography is going to become a tool that’s expected as a part of every shoot, and we’re happy to represent some of the most talented professionals in the industry as they blend their aerial experience with their creative talents,
— Steven J. Levy

HABANA Coordinates Flycam for Glenlivet City Links

Steven J. Levy, President and Founder of HABANA, coordinated the FlyCam aerial camera tracking system for a promo announcing the Philadelphia arrival of Glenlivet City Links, a one-of-a- kind 9-hole golf course and clubhouse.

Beautiful Location

The Glenlivet City Links fuses two of Scotland‘s most cherished exports: Scotch whisky — in the form of The Glenlivet single malt — and golf.

With landscaping inspired by the lush scenery of Scotland, City Links was crafted to be assembled in city interiors, dismantled and driven to the next destination on this year‘s seven-city tour. The unique golf experience, highlighted by tasting events, ended its second nationwide tour at The Armory in Philadelphia where the public was invited to play the course and practice their swings in a virtual driving range.

FAA Concerns

Levy, who was busy producing the NFL Network‘s 2007-2008 NFL season campaign, got a call from Fly Communications which needed an aerial camera tracking system right before the shoot was scheduled to begin.

“They decided to try to do a flyover of the golf course, just like you‘d see in a pro golf tournament on television,” he explained. “The FAA has grounded all robotic cameras, for reasons of homeland security, until they‘re certified. So I had to consider the alternatives. Would a big crane arm work? Maybe a cable camera system?”

Levy reached out to Pat Hally of Flycam who‘s based in Philadelphia and was happy to lend a hand to a project in town. “Three hours later we put a FlyCam system together for City Links,” reported Levy, who served as production company Executive Producer for the job.

A Different Approach

A FlyCam is an ultralight, stabilized aerial camera tracking system. Its low-tension rigging, sensible design and easy set up make it the most versatile, production friendly and cost effective point-to-point system available.

“We stretched cables between two 30-foot trusses in The Armory,” Levy recalled, “and flew the camera from the tee box to the hole itself as in a real golf course flyover. Each hole was a separate shot: We rigged the two base points each time and did the flyover with pans and tilts to add interest to the footage."

“With such a fast turnaround required it was a nice case of serendipity that Pat had just come back from another job and was still in town,” he added.

Cindy Vannoy produced the shoot for Fly Communications.