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DRONES|AIN SPECIAL REPORT
by Bill Carey
Before the June release of the FAA’s Part 107 regulation for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), the commer- cial drone industry in the U.S. emerged through exemptions to existing aviation rules. Ana- lyzing the types of operations allowed by those exemptions, which in late May numbered several thousand, offers insight into where the growth may be.
In the FAA Moderniza- tion and Reform Act of 2012, Congress inserted a number of provisions designed to speed the introduction of unmanned aircraft into the National Air- space System. Section 333 of the act, titled “Special Rules for Certain Unmanned Air- craft Systems,” became the pre- dominant route that aspiring
commercial drone operators followed to gain entry. It gave the secretary of transportation authority to determine “if cer- tain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely” in the air- space before the FAA promul- gated standards for certifying and operating drones weighing less than 55 pounds through the long-awaited sUAS regulation.
The FAA started accepting petitions to fly drones com- mercially under Section 333 in May 2014. It granted the first exemptions, each with 35 con- ditions attached, to six aerial photography and video pro- duction companies backed by the Motion Picture Associa- tion of America that Septem- ber. As more petitions arrived, the agency relaxed the way it
administered them. In March last year, the FAA announced that operators who obtained exemptions would automati- cally receive a “blanket” certifi- cate of authorization (COA) to fly their machines at or below 200 feet anywhere in the coun- try, except in restricted air- space or in major cities. (A COA is required of operators in addition to the exemption.) A month later it announced a “summary grant” process—a more expeditious method of approving batches of exemp- tions in cases that were simi- lar to previous approvals. This past March, it doubled the blanket operating altitude for Section 333 exemption holders to 400 feet.
As of late May, the FAA
said it had granted 5,238 peti- tions from operators seeking to fly small drones for busi- ness purposes. Another 1,517 petitions were denied or closed because they lacked adequate information.
The bow wave of appli- cations from aspiring drone entrepreneurs hinted at the exponential growth predicted by the trade group Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which this year renamed its annual conference “Xponential” to reflect its optimism. AUVSI recently published an analy- sis of the first 3,000 companies to receive exemptions, indicat- ing which applications and mar- kets they were targeting. The findings cannot be considered
The commercial applications
and considerations of flying small drones
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