Geo Week News

April 15, 2015

FAA Speeds Up UAS Exemption Process


Last week, the FAA was busy. First, they issued 30 new exemptions for operators as diverse as Bechtel, Altavian, and Amazon using the “summary grant” process, which the agency says will speed up 333 exemptions and allow more operators to start using their UAS for commercial purposes. The 30 new exemptions bring the total number of exemptions to 99, an increase of almost 43%.

“Although the FAA still review each Section 333 individually,” they said in a statement, “the agency can issue a summary grant when it finds it has already granted a previous exemption similar to the new request. Summary grants are far more efficient because [the FAA doesn’t]need to repeat the analysis performed for the original exemption on which they are based.”

This news comes not long after the FAA announced their “blanket” certificates of authorization (COAs), which SPAR reported as allowing “all holders of 333 exemptions to perform commercial UAV flights anywhere in the country other than restricted airspace or other prohibited areas.”

Coupled together, these two new policies would greatly decrease the time a commercial operator is required to wait for permission to fly a UAS. For example, if an operator applies for a 333 exemption and one has already been granted to another operator for similar purposes, the FAA’s “summary grant” process will allow the agency to grant the exemption without a protracted research phase. Once the commercial operator has received that 333, they will be immediately granted a “blanket” certificate of authorization, which means they will no longer need to apply for a COA for each individual project for which they want to use a UAV. Two of the major barriers to commercial UAV use have been lifted.

Some other notable changes in the past week that will also lead to a faster exemption process:

No Pilot’s License Needed
The agency also quietly announced that operators are no longer required to have a traditional pilot’s license. A recreational or sport pilot certificate, which are “easier to obtain, and therefore lest costly,” are now acceptable.

A New UAS Flight School
In SPAR’s conversation with the Small UAV Coalition, Aerialtronics CTO Lucas van Oostrum suggested that the FAA could speed up the exemption process by allowing sanctioned flight schools to perform training on the FAA’s behalf. This week, the FAA announced that Auburn University in Alabama has been approved to operate the “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight School,” and do just that. The school will offer education, as well as the written and flight test that the FAA requires of all commercial operators.

Amazon’s Delivery Service
Perhaps the most notable immediate effect of the summary grant process is, who have made news recently chiding the FAA when they granted Amazon an experimental airworthiness certificate for a UAV that the online retail giant had stopped testing nearly half a year earlier. The summary grant process now in place will allow to test new unmanned aircraft for their Prime delivery service.


Commercial UAV Expo, a new trade show and conference organized by SPAR 3D, will take place October 5-7, 2015 in Las Vegas. It focuses on the commercial UAV/UAS market in North America covering including Surveying & Mapping; Civil Engineering & Infrastructure;  Mining; Construction; Process, Power & Utilities; Precision Agriculture; and Law Enforcement, Security, Emergency Response.

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