UAS Exemption by FAA–Full of Sound and Fury Signifying a Lot

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The amount of coverage about the anticipated issuance by the FAA of its first major UAS exemption was extraordinary in volume and expectations. The post release response by the media involved a lot of interesting analyses, some of which was accurate but a lot of misunderstanding of the agency’s precise meanings.

The FAA Exemption 11062 was issued on September 25, 2014 and was signed by the Deputy Director of the Flight Standards Service, Michael J. Zenkovich. The document is 29 pages long. The press release expressed the views of Secretary Foxx, Administrator Huerta and Senator Chris Dodd, chairman and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.

The media response was so large it must have been the #1 story on the wires, in print, on air and in the blogosphere; the below links constitute a minute sampling of the response to the Foxx/ Huerta/ Dodd announcement. It is worthwhile to review what Mr. Zenkovich really said and give the precedent come meaning.

First, it is important to note that the petition for exemption was very carefully drafted by a very FAA knowledgeable counsel, who carefully parsed all of the possibly relevant FARs and presented them in the document.

Further, the requester did its homework by submitting many detailed limitations which the motion picture company would voluntarily impose on the flights. Included in the package sent to the FAA were thorough manuals describing how the UAS would be operated, defining the role of the pilots, setting the maintenance procedures, and setting the bounds of the operation. Demonstrating that the applicant KNOWS the FAA rules and how to run an aviation operation is a critical proof that the company is competent to fly these UASs.

The exemption requested authority to fly one type of “drone”, the Astraeus Aerial Cinema System V.3CS UAS aircraft variant, serial #001. That specific UAS model has a strong history of safe, controlled operations in the motion picture industry. That evidence provided an important element to the FAA’s approval.

Some of the press reporting seemed to intimate that this decision is ground-breaking. In that this order is the first action on an exemption request, it did set a precedent. What limits the applicability of this FAA decision to other operations is the list of 35 conditions and limitations imposed on the motion picture operations, fifteen of which the agency decided needed to be added to this carefully crafted document. They constitute an absolute minimum; efforts to expand those restrictions will result in delays in processing and/or denials.

There is now guidance on how oil/gas pipeline inspections, agriculture and the plethora of other uses for these UAS aircraft. Attention to the specific wording of Exemption 11062’s specific limitations will be an absolute necessity for any prospective operator.

PRESS RELEASE: FAA’s Motion Picture UAS Decision a Good First Step

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