Film and television studios have become the first industry to seek US regulatory approval to operate commercial unmanned air systems (UAS) in sub-Arctic airspace, the US Federal Aviation Administration says.

Seven photo and video production companies submitted the exemption requests to the FAA, with the assistance of the Motion Picture Association of America, the FAA says.

Three more industries are also considering filing exemption requests, the FAA says.

In theory, such exemptions are possible under Section 333 of the FAA Modernisation and Reform Act of 2012, but are only the first step in a long and circuitous review process before the companies can operate UAVs.

The FAA now must publish the exemption requests and seek comment.

The exemptions, if approved, apply to the airworthiness standards of the Federal Aviation Regulations, which were not written with unmanned aircraft in mind.

But the exemptions alone will not clear the companies to begin operating UAS in the national airspace.

The next step for the film and video companies is to apply for a certificate of authorisation and waiver (COA). The FAA must approve a COA for each flight by a UAV.

The agency, however, hailed the applications for the exemptions as a key step forward in the process of granting access for commercial UAS in the airspace. The exemptions could be used as the template for more companies to file applications, the FAA says.

Unlike several countries, the FAA prohibits the commercial use of UAVs in the national airspace.

The only exception allowed by the FAA so far is a single vehicle – the Boeing/Insitu Scan Eagle – cleared to operate in the Arctic Ocean, performing marine mammal and ice surveys for ConocoPhillips.

The commercial UAS operations ban is in place until the FAA develops and approves a new set of regulations.

Congress has ordered the FAA to publish a draft set of regulations for small UAS weighing less than 24.9kg (55lb) by the end of the year. But the formal rulemaking process generally takes between seven to 10 years to work its way through the process.