The FAA’s new rule (or Part 107) for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (also known as sUAS or drones) took effect on Monday, August 29, 2016. Existing Section 333 Exemption holders may choose to continue operating under the terms and conditions of their exemption until it expires or operate under Part 107 as long as they comply with the rule’s limitations. Whether to operate under a current Section 333 Exemption or Part 107 is the operator’s choice and depends on the nature of the operation. Continue reading →
The FAA has stopped processing Section 333 Exemption applications. With thousands of petitions in the queue, the FAA will make applicants that would qualify to operate under Part 107 wait until the new rule is effective in August to operate. Meanwhile, for those petitioners that will not fall under Part 107, the FAA will continue to process the Section 333 Exemption petitions.
Last week, the FAA issued an historic authority to Industrial Skyworks for nighttime commercial UAS operations. The Section 333 exemption, obtained with the help of Kenneth Quinn, Jennifer Trock and Graham Keithley of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, is the first approval of its kind and demonstrates the FAA’s willingness to permit flights with increased risk as long as the safety case is well demonstrated and maintained.
This week, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) announced that it has granted over 1,000 Section 333 exemptions to allow commercial operations of small unmanned aircraft systems (“sUAS”). The press release is available, here.
The FAA granted the first exemptions in July 2014 for closed-set filming operations. Since April 2015, the number of Section 333 exemption grants has increased dramatically because the FAA streamlined the exemption process by issuing summary grants. More information about the summary grants can be found on our April 7, 2015, post, available here. The approved commercial purposes have also expanded dramatically and include precision agriculture, real estate photography, search and rescue operations, insurance inspections, electrical transmission and utility inspections, surface mining, construction site imaging, and more.
The FAA is already looking to move away from sUAS regulation by exemption. The agency is now working to issue final rules for commercial sUAS operations that it proposed in February 2015, available here. Additional information on the proposed rules can be found on our February 15, 2015 post, here, and about the more than 4,500 comments to the proposed rules on our May 27, 2015 post, here.
Tomorrow, July 17, 2015, the first testing of small unmanned aircraft system (“sUAS”) package deliveries is expected to start in Wise County, West Virginia, through a collaborative group of Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) test site operators which include Virginia Tech, NASA, and Flirtey (an Australian-based sUAS delivery company). The group will deliver twenty-four packages of prescription medication, weighing up to ten pounds each, to a free medical health clinic. The authorization demonstrates the FAA’s interest in new UAS applications and UAS safety data for future rulemakings.
The testing is designed to determine the sUAS’ ability to reach patients in rural areas who do not have access to basic health services. NASA will fly the prescription medications from distant pharmacies to the local airport and the Flirtey hexacopter sUAS will deliver the packages to the clinic in Wise County. The use of the sUAS is expected to cut the delivery time—normally one-hour—to fifteen minutes. The success of this testing will be beneficial for commercial operators who want the FAA to develop rules for package delivery beyond visual line-of-sight (“VLOS”) operations.
In a giant step forward for the commercial UAS industry, the FAA recently granted Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. (“Yamaha”) a Section 333 exemption that authorizes Yamaha to conduct agricultural aircraft operations with the Yamaha RMAX Type II G UAS (“RMAX”). This represents the first time the FAA has granted an exemption to conduct operations that involve more than aerial data collection, which the FAA defines to include “any remote sensing and measuring by an instrument(s) aboard the [sUAS]. Examples include imagery (photography, video, infrared, etc.), electronic measurement (precision surveying, RF analysis, etc.), chemical measurement (particulate measurement, etc.), or any other gathering of data by instruments aboard the [sUAS].” Under its Section 333 exemption, Yamaha may conduct agricultural operations, including dispensing pesticides, insecticides, and any other substance intended for plant nourishment, soil treatment, or pest control. Yamaha will retain control of the RMAX while conducting the agricultural-related services. Companies aren’t necessarily limited to using UAS to collect data; rather sUAS can be used to perform physical work. The FAA’s decision falls in line with its risk-based approach to approving UAS operations. In the RMAX’s more than 2 million flight hours conducting similar operations in other countries, there have been no injuries due to problems with the aircraft.
All unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are “aircraft” as defined under federal aviation law, and the FAA requires that all aircraft be registered to conduct operations in the U.S. The FAA’s proposed small UAS (sUAS) rules will codify the UAS registration requirement. Following the same registration requirements as manned aircraft, the UAS must be U.S.-owned and cannot be foreign registered. The U.S.-registration requirement has implications for multi-national businesses and entities that intend to operate UAS around the globe, including potential operational limitations or additional approval requirements.
To date, the FAA has limited Section 333 exemptions for commercial operations of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to daytime hours. The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes rules that limit small UAS (sUAS) commercial operations to daytime hours. But, the NPRM recognizes that certain conditions and mitigation may be appropriate for the FAA to allow nighttime operations. As manufacturers continue to develop technologies that will address the FAA’s concerns about nighttime operations, operators and manufacturers should take the opportunity to submit comments and demonstrate to the FAA that sufficient nighttime conditions can be as safe as daytime operations and provide substantial safety benefits to many industries.
Recently the FAA increased the pace at which it grants Section 333 exemptions by foregoing the public comment process. For example, in early April, the FAA issued 25 exemptions over the span of two days. Those exemptions authorized UAS operations for a variety of purposes, including, among others, closed-set motion picture filming, flare stack and power lines inspections, roof inspections, precision agriculture, and wildlife monitoring. As the FAA works through hundreds of applications, the summary grant process presents a significant opportunity to business owners for accelerated decisions.