The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that five exemptions have been granted to four companies for commercial flying of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The four companies that received exemptions want to fly UAS to perform operations for aerial surveying, construction site monitoring and oil rig flare stack inspections, FAA said. They include Trimble Navigation Limited, VDOS Global, LLC, Clayco, Inc. and Woolpert, Inc.
Currently, hobby or recreational UAV flying is permitted provided operators follow guidelines. Commercial flying is not, unless an exemption has been granted.
FAA has received more than 160 requests for commercial exemptions so far.
"Unmanned aircraft offer a tremendous opportunity to spur innovation and economic activity by enabling many businesses to develop better products and services for their customers and the American public," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "We want to foster commercial uses of this exciting technology while taking a responsible approach to the safety of America's airspace."
Farmers and ag service providers have been waiting for FAA to release full guidelines on commercial operation of UAVs, as they can serve as effective crop scouting and application tools.
Michael Toscano, CEO of UAV industry group the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said the exemptions will begin to unlock the benefits of UAV technology. However, long-term solutions would be ideal.
"While this is a positive step, granting exemptions on a case by case basis is not an effective way to regulate the use of UAS in the long term," Toscano said. "The FAA needs to begin the rulemaking process and finalize a rule for the use of UAS as quickly as possible to allow UAS technology to realize its full potential and allow a wide range of industries to reap its benefits."
Secretary Foxx found that the UAS in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security. Those findings are permitted under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
The firms also asked the FAA to grant exemptions from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates. In their petitions, the firms said they will operate UAS weighing less than 55 pounds and keep the UAS within line of sight at all times.
In granting the exemptions, the FAA considered the operating environments and required certain conditions and limitations to assure the safe operation of these UAS in the National Airspace System. The agency also will issue Certificates of Waiver or Authorization that mandate flight rules and timely reports of any accident or incidents..
"The FAA's first priority is the safety of our nation's aviation system," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "Today's exemptions are a step toward integrating UAS operations safely."