The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) recently released a report that identifies more than 25 types of business operations approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) commercially in the National Airspace System (NAS). According to the report, aerial photography received the most exemptions followed by real estate and aerial surveying. The report also finds that exemptions have been approved in 49 states.

“These figures show that businesses across every industry sector have been waiting to use UAS for years and are excited to finally get this technology off the ground,” says Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI. “From inspecting bridges and power lines to filming movies and supporting emergency services, the applications of UAS are virtually limitless and enable researchers, public agencies and businesses to do things that were previously considered to be impossible.”

In May 2014, the FAA announced it would consider granting exemptions for certain low-risk commercial UAS applications under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Since then, the agency has received more than 2,700 requests and approved more than 1,400 petitions.

AUVSI analyzed the first 1,000 exemptions approved by the FAA. Specifically, the report finds:

  • The approved exemptions cover more than 25 types of business operations, with aerial photography receiving the most approvals with 512. Real estate followed with 350 exemptions and general aerial surveying with 301 exemptions.
  • Exemptions were approved for operators from 49 states. California received the most with 114, followed by Florida with 97 and Texas with 82.
  • California companies also manufactured the most platforms mentioned in the approvals, totaling 140. Florida followed with 19. In all, 22 states house manufacturers of platforms approved in the first 1,000 exemptions.
  • More than 90 percent of the first 1,000 exemptions were granted to small businesses.
  • Companies that received exemptions generate at least $500 billion to the U.S. economy annually and represent more than 600,000 jobs.

While the Section 333 process has continued to unlock the potential of UAS technology, AUVSI emphasized that regulating by exemption is no substitute for finalized rules.

“For the full potential of the UAS commercial market to be realized in the U.S., the FAA needs to finalize its small UAS rule as quickly as possible,” Wynne says. “Once this happens, we will have an established framework for UAS operations allowing anyone who follows the rule to fly. The positive effects of the regulation will be felt across the whole country.”

An economic impact study released by AUVSI in 2013 found the UAS industry will create more than 100,000 new jobs and more than $82 billion in economic impact within the first ten years following UAS integration.
The complete study, including state-by-state data, is available at

The world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics, AUVSI represents more than 7,500 members from 60-plus allied countries involved in the fields of government, industry and academia. AUVSI members work in the defense, civil and commercial markets.