FAA safety inspectors question speed of drone use approvals

FAA too quick to approve use of drones, inspe... 02:46

The Federal Aviation Administration recently granted six Hollywood companies permission to use drones on movie sets, saying it was satisfied the drones would not cause damage or injure people. But a Washington Post report raises questions as to whether the FAA ignored internal safety warnings, reports CBS News correspondent Julianna Goldman.

While some Hollywood filmmakers can now use drones to shoot dramatic scenes in the U.S., 170 other applicants from a variety of industries, including insurance companies and big oil, remain on the waiting list.

"They're saying, 'Hurry up, you're taking too long. We have this technology, it's moving along very quickly. It's a big business opportunity, we don't want to fall behind,'" Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock said.

But several FAA safety inspectors, interviewed by Whitlock, said they felt pressured to accelerate reviews and that safety wasn't a top priority.

In one email, inspector James Ryan wrote, "...we can do this job 'good' or we can do it 'fast', but can't do it 'good and fast'.

FAA approves 4 companies to develop commercia... 03:41

"They had gone over the applications with a fine-tooth comb and were worried these drones might fly off movie sets, there hadn't been enough testing ... A couple of them had actually prepared a denial to reject these plans. But the FAA kept that quiet from the public," Whitlock said.

Other inspectors complained about conflicts of interest. After the FAA hired drone industry lobbyist John McGraw to speed up applications, one wrote, "I'm now officially numb with total dismay and disgust with our leadership."

"The FAA is really the skunk at garden party right now," former FAA official Scott Brenner said.

Brenner says the agency is struggling to find a balance between a technology that could pump $10 billion a year into the economy, and to still ensure the safety of the nation's airspace.

"At the end of the day, it is not the drone manufacturer or the company that got the permission to operate, it's going to be the FAA who will be the picture on the news up at the Congressional hearing, saying, 'Why did you give permission to operate this drone in this certain circumstance?'" Brenner said.

In a statement, the FAA maintains safety is still its top priority and is undergoing an active debate about how to approach integration.

And for those who get drones over the holidays, the agency launched a safety campaign to help keep everyone out of harm's way.