UAS Busting the Exemption Myths . . . Part One

The FAA made a big splash a few days ago when it granted the first Section 333 exemptions for six cinematography companies.  Of course, reading second- and third-hand news reports, usually filed by reporters who have not actually read the exemptions, leads to a lot of false impressions over what the FAA actually is permitting.

Plane-ly Spoken has decided to do a little bit of Mythbusting to address some of the erroneous statements we have seen “flying” around the internet already.

Myth #1:  Hollywood has permission to fly UASs for filmmaking.  No, the Motion Picture Association of America helped prepare the petitions, but the petitions were filed by seven companies that specialize in aerial filming.  Six of those petitions were granted, and the seventh is still under review.  Only those companies can fly UASs commercially.  As of right now, they essentially have a monopoly on all UAS aerial cinematography in the United States.  The exemption does not carry over to the industry as a whole.

Myth #2:  Any hobbyist can now get a job with one of these companies flying a UAS for a living.  The FAA set a number of restrictions on who the filmmakers can use as a pilot.  The Exemption requires a pilot’s license and a class 3 medical certificate.  In addition, the exemption requires the pilot-in-command to have logged a minimum of 200 flight cycles and 25 hours of total time as a UAS rotorcraft pilot and at least 10 hours logged as a UAS pilot with a similar UAS type (single blade or multirotor).

Myth #3:  The only reason the FAA imposed a pilot requirement on the filmmakers is because the filmmakers proposed it.  Because no license is required by hobbyists, the FAA will permit a non-pilot to fly commercially if they just ask.  Actually, if you look at the Grant of Exemption, the FAA spent a lot of time justifying its decision not to require a commercial pilots license and just go with a “lesser” requirement of a private pilot license.  In addition, the FAA has specifically stated that Section 333 does not give the FAA the flexibility to dispense with the statutory requirement that an airman hold a certificate under § 44711.  As a result, for all Section 333 exemptions, the pilot in command must have the “appropriate airman certificate under 14 CFR Part 61 for the proposed operation and the appropriate medical certificate under 14 CFR Part 67.”

Myth #4:  Once you get your exemption, you are free to fly any time you want.  While the Exemption is the most important part of the authorization to fly, it is not the only part.  Once you have your exemption, any particular flight still has to get approval through the issuance of a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA Air Traffic Organization.  The FAA has created a new online form to request a COA where you must set forth the specifics of your flight.  The operator will also have to request issuance of a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) between 72 and 48 hours prior to the flight to warn other aircraft in the area of the UAS operation.

Myth #5:  All I have to do is wait for a manufacturer to get a Section 333 authorization, and then I can fly that UAS commercially whenever I want.  The FAA has specifically said that, while a manufacturer can file for a Section 333 exemption, that is not a substitute for an airworthiness certificate.  Any Exemption granted to a manufacturer would only allow that manufacturer to fly its own UASs. No Exemption will be granted where the manufacturer is going to relinquish operational control of the UAS.

So, there you have it, the top 5 myths dispelled.  Of course, new myths will continue to pop up almost as fast as reporters file additional stories.  Rest assured we will address those as they crop up.

(Originally posted September 28, 2014)

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