This past weekend, I sat on a panel at the Massachusetts Production Coalition Expo in Boston. My fellow panelists and I fielded a lot of great questions that were (unsurprisingly) mostly centered around the legal atmosphere and Section 333 exemptions.
The discussion was excellent but it brought up some points that need to be understood by everyone who is considering the pursuit of a 333 exemption.
You Need a Pilot
It can come as a surprise to most first time applicants is the fact that, a Section 333 exemption is useless without a licensed pilot.
The exemption itself is just a way for the FAA to ensure your aircraft is safe to fly and that it has the proper identification markings as is required of all aircraft in the national airspace.
Once you get an exemption though, you must report all your flights to the FAA before takeoff and you must have a licensed pilot designated as the “pilot in command” (PiC) who is in charge of that particular flight.
Now, it goes without saying that this inconvenient truth can stop an applicant before he even starts.
There are workarounds, though.
Obviously, you can get a pilot’s license or you can opt for the cheaper and less time-consuming option and hire a pilot to be your PiC when you fly.
That’s what Abby Speicher of DartDrones recommends. “Apply for the 333 and hire a person with a private pilot’s license. Many Certified Flight Instructors also have part-time availability so it could be an easy to implement business model,” she says.
Nothing is Set in Stone
There were a lot of great questions about the 333 application process from the attendees of the panel, but it is important to remember, a 333 exemption is still an exemption. It is not the rule.
So, you could spend the time and the money now getting approval from the FAA only to find the process has been made simpler and cheaper when the official regulations get published some time next year.
An excellent point was brought up at the panel that the FAA is trying to push round pegs into square holes by applying existing manned aircraft regulations to drones.
UAVs are an entirely new breed of aircraft and will require an entirely new set of rules and regulations to govern them.
It is highly unlikely you will need a pilot’s license to operate a drone for commercial purposes in the near future. Even now, it seems a little backwards. It’s the equivalent of saying you need a driver’s license to race RC cars – it’s not going to hurt, but it’s major overkill.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com