The FAA has quietly made an important change to commercial drone regulations on a Section 333 Exemption that may signal a shift in policy, law firm Hogan Lovells reports.
Section 333 exemption applications are processed by the FAA for a variety of commercial drone uses, and typically include a comprehensive set of requirements that apply to all drone operations performed under the 333 exemption. These include some that have proven a major limitation to many applications; such as the line of sight requirement which would seem to preclude drone delivery, the 400 ft height limit, and the requirement that flights stay at least 500 feet away from people not involved with the flight, which would mean that drone operation may not take place in a crowded or urban area.
But the Section 333 amendment approval issued to Kansas State University (KSU) last week demonstrates a change to the rule about staying 500 feet away from other people, which may indicate a more permanent shift in policy. While exceptions have been made for some film and TV production companies, previously the FAA has only allowed flight nearer than 500 ft to people in closed filming environments. The KSU amendment, which is to enable Kansas State to conduct drone training classes for their students, changes the distance requirements to allow KSU to conduct drone flights over and near people participating in training classes; and is the first non-film related exception to the rule.
If the FAA is eases the distance restriction more widely, it could open the door to commercial applications in urban areas, which would be a significant step forward for a wide variety of commercial applications. The exemption, which can be read here, was opposed by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA.) ALPA objected to the petition for KSU to offer a drone training school on several bases, including safety issues and the fact that the “flight instructor” for the drone training classes may not be a fully licensed airline pilot.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.