By law, any aircraft operation in the national airspace requires a certificated and registered aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operational approval. Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) (PDF) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS).
This authority is being leveraged to grant 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.
The Section 333 Exemption process provides operators who wish to pursue safe and legal entry into the NAS a competitive advantage in the UAS marketplace, thus discouraging illegal operations and improving safety. It is anticipated that this activity will result in significant economic benefits, and the FAA Administrator has identified this as a high priority project to address demand for civil operation of UAS for commercial purposes.
Petitioning for Exemption under Section 333
The below list contains step-by-step instructions for requesting FAA authorization to operate a UAS for civil (non-governmental) purposes other than for recreation or hobby.
Review the FAA’s Guidelines for Submitting a Petition for Exemption.
This website details the general exemption process for filing any petition for exemption, and it provides answers to frequently asked questions.
Review the Section 333 Guidance (PDF) from the FAA’s UAS Integration Office.
This document describes what information petitioners should submit specifically to request FAA authorization to operate a UAS in the National Airspace System (NAS).
File your petition for exemption on the public docket. Instructions are available here (PDF).
As of March 23, 2015, the FAA will automatically grant a “blanket” COA for flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator with a Section 333 exemption, provided the aircraft weighs less than 55 pounds, operations are conducted during daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions and within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports. Details are available here.
Simply search for a licensed drone operator in your area and connect to link below to see approved operators.