The sUAS Rule & Why Exemptions Are Such a Big Deal

Billion dollar industries have spent the last few years preparing; educating themselves and evaluating the value of unmanned aerial systems for an assortment of civilian applications, and they aren’t going to miss out. Globally, companies, including our own, are operating safely and responsibly within existing guidelines across agriculture, energy and emergency response, among others. As players in the industry, we continue to ask why US operations are still grounded.

Latest reports show that while the proposed rules are currently under executive review, a, seemingly, step in the right direction,  it could be delays of months or even years before final rules are set. Rules that many say could potentially involve strict guidelines against commercial uses and a required pilot’s license for operation.

We are hopeful that upcoming regulations for small unmanned aerial vehicles will reward responsible manufacturers and operators. Through our work within the regulatory environment as it exists, PrecisionHawk has developed a vigorous safety case to support future integration into the National Airspace System, and we have worked with countless universities and the UAS Test Sites to research and share important information to guide rulemakers in the decisionmaking process.

As we continue to operate in places such as the UK, Brazil, Canada and Australia, we are confident that forthcoming rules from the FAA will enhance the commercial use of UAVs as we have seen occur on a global scale.  It is also very important that we continue to advance and work with clients and interest groups to promote the social and economic benefits derived from UAV technology across civilian industries.


As We Wait

In the interim, the FAA has begun granting exemptions to fly drones for commercial purposes under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. This is different from a COA [Certificate of Authorization] which allows flights tied with a public institution, like a university.

Exemptions under Section 333 grant the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether a UAV is worthy to take on routine NAS operations. Specifically, the Secretary determines if certain unmanned aircraft systems, if any, as a result of their size, weight, speed, operational capability, proximity to airports and populated areas, and operation within visual line of sight do not create a hazard to users of the national airspace system or the public or pose a threat to national security.


Why it matters

Banking on innovation drives growth. In the case of drones, it’s less like putting all your eggs in one basket and more like hitting the umbrella effect. Instead of exclusively revolutionizing robotics -- UAVs assume a unique position where they function as a tool capable of tapping into a myriad of sectors.

Section 333 exemptions expose a startling link between early adoption and opportunities to propel a  solution forward. Even pioneering companies that have mastered the market and endured decades of perennially changing trends recognize this value. Case in point: the United States Automobile Services Association (USAA). Earlier this year the insurance titan threw its hat in the ring when it petitioned for an exemption to fly a PrecisionHawk UAV. Last week we saw four other companies in the industry achieve this exemption, as well.

USAA’s research will focus on using UAVs to improve the process of insurance claim settling following major natural disasters. While perceived as an incremental step, this is a huge leap forward not only for the insurance industry, but for the entire UAV landscape and the cultivation of a clear regulatory structure.

The next steps for us includes filing our own exemption for commercial work, which will be done by the end of 2014. It is important for us, as a company, to empower clients to use our aerial data tools, but it is equally as important for us to begin independently testing under our own name.

The UAV industry has substantially evolved over the past few months and will only become more impactful. As a collective, the PrecisionHawk team looks forward to exploring more services and applications to improve quality of life, augment the manner in which we use resources and show the public how game-changing this technology will be.