FAA approves massive round of UAS exemptions

By Emily Aasand | April 09, 2015

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration granted a record-breaking 30 Section 333 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) exemptions to a range of companies including AeroVironment Inc., SenseFly and The City of Roswell Coalition, in early April, bringing the total number of exempt companies to 99.

The recent addition totals nearly 30 percent of all FAA granted exemptions to date. The first FAA approved UAS exemption was granted in September 2014, and until April 3, the most exemptions granted in a single day was 11 on March 24.

Nearly 33 percent of the 30 recently exempt companies plan to use unmanned systems for film or aerial photography, and agriculture and aerial inspections together make up roughly 40 percent. Other company uses include mapping and surveying, and research, development and validation of a formal UAS training curriculum.

Unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) that have been approved for exemption include both fixed wing aircraft and rotocopters and range from DJI Phantoms and PrecisionHawk’s Lancaster to the Aeryon SkyRanger and eBee UAS.

The rapid release of FAA approved exemptions comes nearly two weeks after the FAA unveiled a change to its regulatory exemption and authorization system that it believes will “bridge the gap between the past process, which evaluated every UAS operation individually,” with a new system designed for “future operations.”

Under the new policy, the FAA will grant a certificate of waiver or authorization for all flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator that has already received a Section 333 exemption. The COA allows the exempt UAS operator to fly anywhere in the U.S. without the need to acquire a COA for every flight—a major change from the previous approach.

The blanket COA, as the FAA refers to it, will be available for all fights that not only fly at or below 200 feet, but also weigh less than55 pounds, operate during daytime Visual Flight Rules conditions and within visual-line-of-sight of the pilots while staying at predetermined distances from airports or heliports. 

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