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FAA Raises “Blanket” Altitude Authorization to 400 Feet

Commercial operators of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that are authorized to operate in the U.S. under a Section 333 exemption from the FAA may now operate up to 400 feet without obtaining a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA). This will reduce the burden on commercial operators who could previously operate up to 200 feet without a COA.

In a press release today, the FAA announced a change in policy that allows commercial operators to operate under their Section 333 exemptions up to 400 feet without seeking a COA. In March 2015, the FAA adopted the policy to grant a COA for flights at or below 200 feet to any sUAS operator with a Section 333 exemption for aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds, operate during daytime visual flight rules conditions, operate within visual line of sight of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports. The change will absolve such operators from getting a COA to operate to 400 feet, a process that can take 60 days.

The FAA emphasized that the new policy did not change other requirements of the operators (i.e., registration and pilot certification) or loosen other restrictions for the flights, including the need to operate according to the conditions of restricted airspace and other areas, such as major cities, where the agency prohibits UAS operations.  The FAA expects the change will lessen the need for COAs by 30 to 40 percent.

This change is an incremental development for commercial operators advocating for more flexible operating environments.