The legal path to fly UAS for commercial use has been in place for some time now, but with a recent change by the FAA it is now easier than ever for businesses to fly both fixed wing and multi-rotor unmanned aerial systems. The FAA has a very clear path to legally fly UAS in place for commercial use which starts with something called a 333 exemption. The 333 exemption is specific to the company applying along with a specific manufacturer and model of UAS. So, let’s learn a little about what is the 333 exemption, how the recent change to the exemption by the FAA opens the sky for opportunities to easily and efficiently fly UAS and generate new business for your company, how you can apply for it.
What is the 333 exemption? According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s website, “the Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS). This authority is being leveraged to grant case-by-case authorization for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations. The Section 333 Exemption process provides operators who wish to pursue safe and legal entry into the NAS a competitive advantage in the UAS marketplace, thus discouraging illegal operations and improving safety.” Along with receiving a 333 exemption, you receive a “blanket” COA which has allowed you to fly up to 200 feet as long as you fly under daytime Visual Flight Rules, you are proper distance from an airport or heliport, and maintain visual line of sight of the aircraft. This 200 foot ceiling has been a hindrance because most fixed wing systems used for photogrammetry must fly slightly above 200 feet. The FAA has expanded the “blanket” COA ceiling which brings great benefit and makes the legal process to fly much easier.
With the recent FAA announcement made on March 29, 2016, the unmanned aircraft (UAS) “blanket” altitude authorization for Section 333 exemption holders and government aircraft operators has been increased to 400 feet. The new COA policy allows small unmanned aircraft to fly up to 400 feet anywhere in the country except restricted airspace and other areas, such as major cities, where the agency prohibits UAS operations. “This is another milestone in our effort to change the traditional speed of government,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Expanding the authorized airspace for these operations means government and industry can carry out unmanned aircraft missions more quickly and with less red tape.”
In order to apply for your 333 exemption you will have to submit a petition for exemption which will include your request to fly a specific system along with your company and contact information. In addition to the submittal of the petition, you will have to submit a user manual and data sheet of the specific system you intend to fly. We have very clear instructions and templates already created for companies interested in flying any Trimble UAS. Once these are completed, send your petition to the Federal Docket Management System (FDMS) electronically by accessing the public portal: www.regulations.gov.