The summary grant process used last week to issue 30 new Section 333 exemptions is another example, says the Federal Aviation Administration, of how the agency is using a flexible regulatory approach to accommodate rapidly evolving technology.

The new approach will speed up Section 333 exemption approvals for many commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operators, including those in the surveying, mapping and geospatial professions.

Section 333 is the part of the 2012 FAA reauthorization law that allows the Secretary of Transportation to determine if certain low-risk UAS operations can be authorized prior to finalizing the small UAS proposed rule published this 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, says the FAA, because they don’t require the same 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: aerial data collection and film/television production. 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.

Immediately following the FAA update, the streamlined process was applauded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

A summary of UAS use is available at the FAA website.