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.
Under 14 C.F.R. § 11.87, the FAA may elect to issue a summary grant, i.e., not publish a summary of the petition and request comments, if it finds good cause exists not to delay action on the petition. Generally in deciding whether to use the summary grant process, the FAA considers whether (a) granting the petition would set a precedent, (b) the relief requested is identical to exemptions previously granted, (c) delaying action would adversely affect the applicant, and (d) the petition was timely filed. As of April 8, 2015, the FAA has processed and granted 128 Section 333 petitions, during which the FAA analyzed whether various UAS could be operated safely in the National Airspace System without posing a risk to national security. As the FAA’s experience with the various types of UAS and operations grows, it will be less likely to see a petition that falls outside of its authority to issue a summary grant. In fact, many businesses submitted exemption applications requesting the same operating conditions levied on the first round of exemption recipients.
Individuals interested in submitting a petition for Section 333 exemption should consider whether to take advantage of the summary grant process by requesting authority to conduct commercial operations with UAS and operating conditions that have been approved previously. Interested individuals can find previous exemptions on FAA’s UAS website or contact Pillsbury’s UAS Focus team.