FAA Streamlines COA Process for Commercial UAS Operators; 53 Now Approved

DJI Introduces its Phantom Vision 2+ that both Saratoga Aerial Photo and Video and Mike Johnson will use according to the latest grants of exemption for commercial UAS use.

The Federal Aviation Administration released a memorandum outlining a streamlined process for companies to fly commercial operations of unmanned aircraft systems in the U.S.

According to the document, “A new interim policy is necessary to respond to the current demands and to bridge existing UAS operations with the proposed small UAS rule.”

The new policy allows commercial operators permitted to fly under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act to fly without the current coordination with air traffic control facilities and service centers. Operations will receive a streamlined certificate of authorization to fly if adhering to certain parameters.

“This policy is a step in the right direction, and will help companies that receive Section 333 exemptions fly sooner by eliminating some red tape in the process,” says AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne. “It will also help more industries and businesses begin to realize the benefits of UAS technology.”

The parameters require flights to remain at or below 200 feet above ground level during daylight visual flight rule conditions, at least two nautical miles from airports and five miles from airports with an operational control tower, and the pilot in command must have at least a private pilot license. The aircraft used must weigh less than 55 pounds and the operator must issue a notice to airmen at least 24 hours before the proposed operations.

Any operations that are not consistent with these parameters must apply through the standard COA process. 

Recently, five more companies have received approval from the FAA to operate commercial UAS bringing the total number of exemptions to 53.

Aetos Group Inc. can perform aerial inspections of plant infrastructure including flare stacks, elevated pipelines, tanks and columns and environmental monitoring for the petrochemical industry.

Aerial Production Services Inc. has been exempted to use the DJI Phantom 2 UAS for aerial photography and inspection while Saratoga Aerial Photo and Video will use the Phantom Vision 2+ for aerial photography.

Solusia Air LLC will use an Aibot X6 V2 UAS to conduct telecommunications and utility structure inspection, construction and maintenance services.

Finally, Mike Johnson was given permission to conduct roof inspections using a Phantom 2 Vision+ as well.

Now, as long as these operators fly below 200 feet and stay in line with the other parameters outlined by the FAA, they do not need to apply for a separate COA for every unique operation. For example, multiple roof inspections on different structures can take place in quick succession as long as NOTAMs have been issued making airmen aware of each flight.

“However, the there are still more than 600 pending requests for exemptions, and the FAA has only approved 53 to date,” says Wynne. “The FAA needs to expedite this process and set a timeline for their approval to create accountability and give companies more certainty. Accelerating this process will help businesses use UAS to do their work more effectively and efficiently while they wait for the FAA to complete the rulemaking.”