FAA issues five more exemptions for commercial UAS operations

By Patrick C. Miller | December 18, 2014

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted five additional exemptions to four companies for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations representing a range of industries.

The four companies receiving exemptions—Trimble Navigation Limited, VDOS Global LLC, Clayco Inc. and Woolpert Inc. (two exemptions)—will fly UAS to conduct aerial surveying, construction site monitoring and oil rig flare stack inspections.

Including the exemptions previously issued to film and video production companies, the agency has now granted 12 exemptions. In testimony before the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee last week, Peggy Gilligan, the FAA's associate administrator for aviation safety, said more than 160 requests are pending.

“While this is a positive step, granting exemptions on a case by case basis is not an effective way to regulate the use of UAS in the long term,” Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said. “The FAA needs to begin the rulemaking process and finalize a rule for the use of UAS as quickly as possible to allow UAS technology to realize its full potential and allow a wide range of industries to reap its benefits.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx found that the UAS in the proposed operations don’t need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they don’t pose a threat to national airspace users or national security. Those findings are permitted under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

“Unmanned aircraft offer a tremendous opportunity to spur innovation and economic activity by enabling many businesses to develop better products and services for their customers and the American public,” Foxx said. “We want to foster commercial uses of this exciting technology while taking a responsible approach to the safety of America’s airspace.”

The firms also asked the FAA to grant exemptions from regulations addressing general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates. They plan to operate UAS weighing less than 55 pounds and within line of sight.

In granting the exemptions, the FAA considered the operating environments and required certain conditions and limitations to assure the safe operation of the UAS in the national airspace. The agency also will issue Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) that mandate flight rules and timely reports of any accident or incidents.

“The FAA’s first priority is the safety of our nation’s aviation system,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Today’s exemptions are a step toward integrating UAS operations safely.”