FAA Eases Drone Rules, Opens Door for Newsgathering

WASHINGTON—The Federal Aviation Administration this week eased the process for getting a commercial drone-use waiver by establishing a temporary blanket exemption for operations at or below 200 feet.

The FAA said it “established an interim policy to speed up airspace authorizations for certain commercial unmanned aircraft operators who obtain Sec. 333 exemptions. The new policy helps bridge the gap between the past process, which evaluated every UAS operation individually, and future operations after we publish a final version of the proposed small UAS rule.”

Sec. 333 refers to the section of the “FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012,” which grants the Secretary of Transportation the discretion to determine if a UAS can operate safely in national air space. Up to now, Sec. 333 waivers were granted on a case-by-case basis and could take as long as 60 days to receive approval. The FAA’s Sec. 333 webpage indicates the agency had granted 64 as of March 24. Another 23 were listed as “closed.”

“Under the new policy, the FAA will grant a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator with a Sec. 333 exemption for aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds, operate during daytime Visual Flight Rules conditions, operate within visual line of sight of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports:”

  • 5 nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower; or
  • 3 NM from an airport with a published instrument flight procedure, but not an operational tower; or
  • 2 NM from an airport without a published instrument flight procedure or an operational tower; or
  • 2 NM from a heliport with a published instrument flight procedure

The FAA said the blanket 200-foot COA allows flight “anywhere in the country except restricted airspace and other areas, such as major cities, where the FAA prohibits UAS operations.”

Existing Sec. 333 exemption holders will automatically receive a blanket 200-foot COA. For new exemption holders, the FAA will issue a COA when the exemption is approved. The agency said anyone who wants to fly outside the blanket parameters must obtain a separate COA specific to the airspace required for that operation.