An FAA 333 Exemption for Drone Operation is Still Relevant.

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Who needs a lawyer? File your own paperwork for an FAA 333 exemption request and learn something while you're at it.

Apr 1, 2016

No sooner than we finished putting the wraps on our FAA 333 exemption request, the Federal Aviation Administration goes and releases a rulemaking proposal that has the potential to totally suck all the value out of all those hours of mind-numbing fact-checking, reading and re-reading. I’m gonna tell you that I’m still glad we did it. Here’s why:

How well do you really know aviation law?

I’d wager that everybody who wants to fly a drone commercially has a pretty good handle on what you can and can’t do. However, knowing why definitely makes you a better operator. By my going thru the motions to understand what was necessary for an exemption, I obtained a whole new respect for what the FAA must deal with. Does that mean that I believe it to all be relevant to the commercial operation of sUAS? Heck, no; and frankly, I would wager that there are folks at the FAA that don’t either, given what’s been released in proposed regulation. Point being here is that there are so many intertwined points of relationship in the Code of Federal Regulations (“the CFR”) that you can’t even write an exemption request as a point-by-point refutation because one point always seems to spill over into another section of code. This is something you won’t learn unless you actually sit down and read regulations.

There’s opportunity hiding in all those headings and sub-headings.

At this point, I’m going to be an optimist and say that I believe that the majority of what’s in the “small UAS Rule” will become regulation. If that’s indeed the case, what’s being asked for isn’t really too far off of what’s been approved already in prior exemptions (“overly burdensome” bits excluded). Knowing what we need as a business to pass exemption approval is in essence preparation for the worst case scenario of small UAS rule approval.  Will we need a private pilot’s license to fly? I hope not; but even if the deal goes South, I’m going to need to pass a ground school test which will likely be very similar to an exam required for an sUAS operator. In the current regulatory climate, there’s nothing wrong with being over-prepared.

Regardless of the outcome, my business will benefit.

I’ve taken the time to understand the mess. I’ve put fingers to the keyboard. I’ve spent many a weekend raising the ire of my wife and kids in office exile. When I talk to customers, I can now speak directly and with credibility with respect to operation of sUAS; and at the end of the day, is a customer gonna go with the guy who was inspired to start a business after spending too much time watching viral videos of fireworks displays from restricted venues, or will they go with the guys who have lived through the regulatory agony already so their customers won’t have to?

If we’re approved, we get to hit the ground running.

Lets be real here. We’re well past comment period for the FAA’s proposal regarding small UAS regulation; and I’d wager it’ll be at least another year to get all the ducks in a row after that for proper execution of any approved regulation. Our exemption was literally filed the same weekend as the sUAS rule proposal went out for comment. To the credit of the FAA, our exemption was approved in about 90 days (we were expecting it to take 120 days). However, we could still be another year out before we’re regulated properly. The way I got it figured, even if our flights are more restricted under exemption, at least we’re doing something. As for the “extras” and uncertainty as to where the final regulations will land, we’ll just have to trust that the FAA continues to work for the SUAS industry as a whole. Our hope is that those who are properly licensed and approved under exemption will be grandfathered in to some degree, but that’s pure speculation in an optimistic mindset.

Your thoughts?

So I’m curious – did you file for an exemption? Do you still plan to? Content to wait it out at this point? I’m a bit of an information hoarder, so I’m fond of telling folks that every season they sit the fence is another opportunity missed to improve your body of data as a whole. In precision ag, trend analysis is key; and the value of your data can only increase more bits are added to the bin.

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