Logan Campbell - Logan@Aerotas.com
The FAA recently released its new drone regulations, known as Part 107. Though many believe that the new rules are too restrictive, there is a provision in the law that allows for receiving a waiver from most of the rule's restrictions. According to the FAA, “this rule will, in [section] 107.200, include the option to apply for a certificate of waiver.” This waiver process opens up the possibility of dozens of new applications by potentially allowing flying over people, flying long distances, and many other capabilities. Though the potential is significant, there remain too many uncertainties about the waiver process for businesses to rely on it in the near future.
The Process for receiving a Commercial Drone Waiver is unclear
First of all, we don’t know what the process for receiving a waiver will look like. While there are indications that the submission process will be straightforward, it may take several months to receive approval for a waiver. For certain simple waivers, it may be as quick as a few days. Ultimately, this is simply a source of uncertainty that won’t be resolved until operators begin applying for waivers when the rules come into effect in August.
Receiving a drone waiver may require additional restrictions
Second, we don’t know what additional restrictions may be required to waive certain parts of the law. The text of the rules say that a waiver applicant will need to provide data necessary “that establishes that the proposed operation can safely be conducted under the terms of the requested certificate of waiver.” This could mean that in order to gain a waiver, an operator only needs to have additional safety procedures and training, but it could also mean that the operator needs extensive testing, certification, and additional aircraft hardware, potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars. Again, this is a substantial source of uncertainty that will remain until the waivers begin to be granted or denied in August.
the FAA's willingness to grant drone waivers is unknown
Finally, we do not know if the FAA is even willing to actually waive restrictions yet. Though the rules allow for it, ultimately waivers are only granted if “the Administrator finds that the proposed operation can safely” be completed. This means that the FAA has full authority to determine what can and cannot be waived. In fact, the existing 333 exemption and COA processes effectively allows anyone to apply for a waiver from any rule, but the FAA has been very restrictive about which rules it have waived. Similarly, while Part 107 grants the FAA legal authority to grant waivers to a specified subset of the new rules, it does not specify that they must grant waivers to those rules. For example, Part 107 allows the FAA to waive the Visual Line of Sight requirement, but the FAA may never actually grant that waiver. The FAA retains full authority over which rules to waive, and has not indicated which ones it actually will be willing to waive, nor when.
The waiver process, along with Part 107 as a whole, is a step in the right direction for the FAA and for safely integrating drones into the national airspace. However, there are still many uncertainties about what the waiver process will involve. Aerotas would not advise making any large business decisions on the assumption that a certain provision will be waived, at least until we have more information in late August. Until the applications start rolling in, we just will not know what it takes to effectively receive a waiver.
If you would like to understand how the new rules in Part 107 will allow your business to begin using commercial UAVs, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Logan is the founder and CEO of Aerotas. He graduated from Harvard Business School in 2015 and brings experience in a broad range of industries, including agriculture, real estate, and finance. A lifelong tinkerer and avid UAV enthusiast, Logan also has hundreds of hours of flight experience over a broad set of different UAV types.