Strictly speaking, flying a drone for commercial uses is not entirely legal. However, the FAA continues to blur the line with its Section 333 exemptions. The FAA is granting case-by-case authorization for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations prior to the finalization of the Small UAS Rule, which will be the primary method for authorizing small UAS operations once it is complete, estimated to happen in 2016 or 2017.
Last September, the FAA issued its first six Section 333 exemptions based on requests facilitated by the Motion Picture Association of America. Then came the first exemption approved for the agriculture industry, when Trimble was granted an exemption in December.
Since that time, the number of Section 333 exemptions has steadily climbed. As of April 8, the FAA had granted a total of 128 such exemptions. The Small UAV Coalition has applauded the streamlining of the exemption process but says work remains to be done.
“We recognize that the FAA has taken big steps toward greater efficiency and transparency,” says Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition. “However, more must be done. Over 600 petitions remain pending, and the delays and restrictions are going to have a negative impact on the United States economy.”
Drobac says small UAV operators around the country are interested in working with the FAA to help regulators understand the industry’s potential, as well as the importance of installing smart, workable reforms to the current permitting process.
In the meantime, companies such as Arch Aerial that have just received Section 333 exemptions find themselves relieved that they can begin business operations that are not legally ambiguous.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity, and even more excited to be on the cutting edge of this industry,” says Arch Aerial CEO Ryan Baker. “I’m looking forward to seeing how some of the larger companies in the agricultural and energy sectors utilize new UAS service providers like our company.”
AeroVironment, senseFly and PrecisionHawk are three companies with precision agriculture solutions also receiving recent Section 333 exemptions. You can see the entire list of granted authorizations here.
The agriculture industry is expected to capture as much as 80% of all commercial use as this emerging technology advances.
Need ideas on how you could use drones on your farming operation? Visit www.FarmWithDrones.com or the AgWeb discussion boards for dozens of ideas.