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Sun, May 01, 2016

FAA Approves 5,000 Section 333 Exemption Petition Grants

Gowdy Brothers Aerospace Looks To The Future Of Non-Recreational UAS Use

FAA Airman and Airspace Rules Division announces 5,076 approved Section 333 petition grants. The FAA further clarified there were another 7,000 petitions waiting to be approved as of April 20th at the FAA UAS symposium hosted by Embry-Riddle University. This is significantly up from approximately 50 approved exemptions this time last year. Nevertheless, there has been a recent slowdown as individuals, businesses, non-profits and governmental agencies all anticipate regulatory changes.

It is currently illegal to operate an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) for any commercial purpose (or of any economic benefit) under the current FAA regulations without first receiving a Section 333 Exemption Grant, among other requirements.

"The section 333 process for commercial UAS operations was never intended to be a long term solution – only a stop-gap while the FAA under section 332 gathers information and decides how to fully and safely integrate these unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace. To this end, the FAA has been diligently working on framing the new regulations to ensure the safety of persons, property, and airman." stated Stephen Gowdy, Chief Pilot with Gowdy Brothers Aerospace, LLC, in a recent interview.

Proposed regulations are already in the works, currently being reviewed by various governmental agencies and branches, the White House, industry stakeholders, and FAA personnel alike. The Advisory and Rulemaking Committees for Unmanned Aircraft Systems has already proposed and implemented a number of new rules, most notably, the new online registration processes for hobbyists and commercial users. The foundation for these new set of more permanent regulations for UAS is being referred to as small rule Part 107, which is due for release in June of this year and has significant implications for the UAS industry.

Anticipation for Part 107's release has already had some impact on the stakeholders' decision-making process. According to Jason Christenson, President with Gowdy Brothers Aerospace, LLC, a company which consults UAS operators, agencies and businesses with regulatory requirements, "…off hand, I would estimate that the number of Section 333 petition filings have dropped by about 20-30% in the last 45 days. This slowdown is probably due, in part, from the anticipation of the small rule part 107 release and uncertainty with what those rules will ultimately contain. Despite the apparent slow-down in Section 333 filings, interest in providing UAS services, as a part of an existing business' ancillary service or a new standalone service entirely, continues to climb to new, unprecedented levels."

Among the proposed rules in Part 107, one of the most anticipated might be the FAA consideration for relaxing the current mandate on commercial UAS users to hold at a minimum of a Sports Pilot's certification. "When the Pilot requirement is reduced to a "knowledge test" of some kind, the FAA will be immediately inundated with thousands upon thousands of applicants who do not currently hold a pilot's certification but wish to operate for commercial purposes," states Christenson. "Although the process for application may become more defined and a little less esoteric than the current 333 process, the requirements for application may immediately congest already strained FAA resources."

So what actions should you take do in the meantime? Gowdy suggests that you avoid waiting for the new rules to be released by "hedging your bets" and go ahead and petition for the Section 333 exemption while waiting for Part 107. Part 107 still has several steps that it must take before becoming a part of the regulations. Among other steps, the small rule will need to go through a (circulatory) regulatory approval process. Currently, it is under review by the Office of Management and Budget. If the proposed rules are delayed at any point during the process, the FAA by law, will continue to operate under the Section 333 process in the meantime.

"At the end of the day, we encourage and assist our clients to take concurrent paths with the developing FAA process to position them in the best possible way, regardless of the outcome.  This is an election year - anything can happen," noted Gowdy.

(Image from file)

FMI: www.GowdyBrothers.com

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