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.
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.
On February 15, 2015, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed rules for the commercial operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) weighing less than 55 pounds—a long-awaited step towards integrating commercial UAS flights such as precision agriculture, surveying, real estate photography, and utility and infrastructure inspections (e.g., electrical wires, pipelines, and bridges) into U.S. airspace. But the proposed rules leave prohibited other desired commercial uses (e.g., package delivery, spray operations and nighttime flights) and unanswered key safety, privacy, security, liability, and spectrum questions. Comments to the FAA’s rules are due April 24, 2015 and all affected parties, including businesses and industries hoping to use any-sized UAS, should take advantage of this opportunity to offer their views, concerns, and suggestions to shape the incipient regulatory framework for UAS.