FAA Will Consider Exemptions for Commercial UAS Operation

FAA Will Consider Exemptions for Commercial UAS Operation

Film companies petition to fly unmanned aerial systems before commercial rulemaking is complete; ag industry expected to join in

The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday said it would consider petitions from seven television and film companies to waive the administration's current hold on commercial unmanned aircraft system flights.

If the exemption requests are granted, FAA said in a press statement, there could be tangible economic benefits as the agency begins to address the demand for commercial UAS operations.

However, all the associated safety issues must be carefully considered to make sure any hazards are appropriately mitigated. The petitioner must still obtain operational approval from the FAA.

Birds-eye view: A UAS can be a valuable crop scouting tool for farmers. (Photo by Jennifer Campbell)

Currently, the FAA says it prohibits operation of unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial purposes, regardless of the operator's adherence to model aircraft rules.

Related: Groups Ask for Faster Rulemaking on UAS Use

The Motion Picture Association of America facilitated the exemption requests on behalf of their membership. The firms that filed the petitions are all independent aerial cinematography professionals who collectively developed the exemption requests as a requirement to satisfy the safety and public interest concerns of the FAA, MPAA and the public at large.

The requests come after a federal judge earlier this year ruled that an FAA fine against a drone operator for flying commercially over the University of Virginia be dropped on the basis that FAA's flight rules weren't part of a formal rulemaking process. FAA subsequently filed a brief to appeal the decision.

In the meantime, the agency has been working to implement the provisions of Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and move forward with UAS integration before proposing a small UAS rule.


Companies from three industries besides film production have approached the FAA and are also considering filing exemption requests.  These industries include precision agriculture, power line and pipeline inspection, and oil and gas flare stack inspection.

Related: Unmanned Aerial System Lands at Our Farm

The firms are asking the FAA to grant exemptions from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates.  They are also asking for relief from airworthiness certification requirements as allowed under Section 333. Under that section of the law, certain airworthiness requirements can be waived to let specific UAS fly safely in narrowly-defined, controlled, low-risk situations.

To receive the exemptions, the firms must show that their unmanned aerial system operations will not adversely affect safety, or provide at least an equal level of safety to the rules from which they seek the exemption.  They would also need to show why granting the exemption would be in the public interest.

Currently, Certificates of Waiver or Authorization are available to public entities that want to fly a UAS in civil airspace. Common uses include law enforcement, firefighting, border patrol, disaster relief, search and rescue, military training, and other government operational missions.

Related: UAS: Know the Laws for Aerial Devices on Farms

Commercial operations are authorized on a case-by-case basis. A commercial flight requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval. The exemption process under Section 333 provides an additional avenue for commercial UAS operations.

According to an Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International economic impact study, the integration of UAS will create more than 100,000 new jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade following integration.

Every year integration is delayed, the AUVSI study estimates the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic impact – $27.6 million per day.

Join Ag Engage and the Penton Farm Progress Group for a first-ever outdoor exposition for unmanned aerial vehicle use in agriculture, the Precision Aerial Ag Show! Learn more about the event, set for July 9 and 10, 2014, at Progress City USA in Decatur, Ill.

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