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FAA Summary Grants Speed UAS Exemptions

April 9, 2015  - By 0 Comments

The “summary grant” process the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) used last week to issue 30 Section 333 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) exemptions is an example of how the agency is using a flexible regulatory approach to accommodate this rapidly evolving technology, according to a news statement from the FAA.

The new approach will speed up Section 333 exemption approvals for many commercial UAS operators, the FAA said. Section 333 is the part of the 2012 FAA reauthorization law that lets the Secretary of Transportation determine if certain low-risk UAS operations can be authorized before finalizing the small UAS proposed rule published in February.

Although the FAA still reviews each Section 333 petition individually, 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. Summary grants are a tool the FAA can use in all exemption areas, not just UAS. 

The FAA’s experience in reviewing the Section 333 petitions shows they generally fall into two categories: film/television production and aerial data collection. Most exemptions in these categories will likely be handled through the summary grant process. For unique requests, the agency will still publish the petition in the Federal Register for public comment and will conduct a detailed analysis.

The FAA also made two other changes to the Section 333 exemption process last week:

  • The agency now allows operations under these exemptions by people who hold a recreational or sport pilot certificate. Previously, Section 333 operators were required to have at least a private pilot certificate. The newly added certificates are easier to obtain, and therefore less costly, than a private pilot certificate.
  • A third-class medical certificate is no longer required. Now, a Section 333 operator only needs a valid driver’s license to satisfy the medical requirement. This change is consistent with the agency’s approach for sport pilot certificate holders, who may fly light sport aircraft with a driver’s license and no FAA medical certificate.  

For more information on the FAA and UAS, go to

Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), applauded the change. “For months, AUVSI has advocated for a more streamlined process for Section 333 exemptions that will help more industries realize the benefits of UAS technology,” Wynne said. ” The FAA’s new summary grant process is a step in the right direction that cuts through the red tape while making it easier for operators to fly UAS. We applaud the agency for lifting unnecessary restrictions and enabling more commercial uses of the technology in a safe and responsible manner.”

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Tracy Cozzens

About the Author:

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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