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FAA Relaxes Pilot Certificate Requirement for Section 333 UAS Operations

For the first time, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) granted Section 333 exemptions that allowed individuals holding a sport or recreational pilot certificate to conduct unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”) operations under those exemptions. Previously the FAA required all UAS operations authorized under Section 333 exemptions to be conducted by individuals holding either a commercial or private pilot certificate. Important to businesses seeking to use UAS, the FAA’s decision to open up Section 333 operations to sport and recreational pilots will make it easier for businesses to recruit and train a cadre of qualified UAS pilots, especially given the reduced training requirements and associated reduction in costs. For example, while an individual applying for a private pilot certificate must log at least 40 hours of flight time — 20 hours of which must be flight training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours of which must be solo flight training — an individual seeking a sport pilot certificate need only log 20 hours of flight time, half that required for a private pilot certificate.

In reaching its decision to expand the types of eligible pilot certificate, the FAA found that the aeronautical knowledge requirements that would be applicable to UAS operations for a recreational and sport pilot certificate were substantially similar to those for a private pilot certificate. The FAA’s decision to relax pilot training requirements for Section 333 operations seems in line with its recognition in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for operation and certification of small UAS (“NPRM”) that airman certification requirements “impose an unnecessary burden for many small UAS operations.”