Recently the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) announced an interim policy to streamline the Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (“COA”) process for unmanned aircraft operations (“UAS”) operating under a Section 333 exemption. The simplified COA process will be a boon to the 35 new exemptions granted since the FAA made its announcement. Under the old process, FAA evaluated every UAS operation separately, with processing times of up to 60 days. Under the new process, FAA will provide Section 333 exemption holders with “blanket” COAs for flights anywhere in the United States (except restricted airspace and other areas, such as major cities, where the FAA prohibits UAS operations) so long as the UAS are operated under the following conditions:
- Flights are conducted below 200 feet above ground level
- UAS weighs less than 55 pounds
- Operations conducted only during daytime Visual Flight Rules conditions
- Operations conducted within visual line of sight of pilots
- UAS stays certain distances from airports or heliports:
- 5 nautical miles from an airport having an operational control tower;
- 3 nautical miles from an airport with publish instrument flight procedure (without an operational tower);
- 2 nautical miles from an airport with a published instrument flight procedure or an operational tower; or
- 2 nautical miles from a heliport with published instrument flight procedure.
New exemption holders will automatically receive a blanket COA at the time the exemption is approved, allowing them to conduct operations under these conditions immediately after receiving an exemption. Anyone seeking to conduct UAS operations outside of the blanket parameters will require a separate COA specific to the airspace required for the operation. Applications for COAs are submitted through the FAA’s UAS Civil COA Portal.