New 333 Exemption Granted to Realtor

The FAA granted a new 333 exemption today to an Arizona realtor.

On July 12, 2014, a Tuscon-based realtor asked for a Section 333 exemption “to operate the PHANTOM 2 Vision+ quad-copter unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to conduct aerial videography and cinematography to enhance academic community awareness for those individuals and companies unfamiliar with the geographical layout of the metro Tucson area and augment real estate listing videos.”

His request was published in the Federal Register in August 2014 and received five comments.  Three expressed concerns (with one outright opposed) and two were in support.  The Air Line Pilots Association was opposed to a waiver for a FAA Commercial Pilot Certificate since this was a commercial request – sounds like a job-security concern rather than a safety concern.  Another concerns was the loss of C2 and the need for a safe-mode should a loss of C2 occur – something I think is reasonable.

The analysis noted that a manned flight accomplishing the same goals would require an aircraft weighing at least 5,000 lbs and 100 gallons of fuel, compared to a 3 pound UAV.

The FAA believes it does not have authority to waive the requirement for pilot certification, but only required the Pilot-in-Command (PIC) to have a private pilot certificate.  While it isn’t requiring a commercial pilot certificate, the applicant possesses neither.  The FAA reduced but did not eliminate the need for training in hours logged by the PIC in three flight  categories (general, on a similar aircraft, and on the same make and model aircraft).  The FAA declined to issue a temporary certificate pending completion.

Most interestingly, given that the request was for use in metro-Tucson, the FAA limited use in congested areas, summarized in part:

  • Avoid “yellow” areas on VFR charts (see below – this includes much of Tucson)
  • Stay 500 feet away from people and certain objects when in congested areas
  • Stay 500 feet away from vessels, structures, and vehicles unless the owner’s authorization is obtained

So the FAA granted the exemption subject to numerous limitations because the “enhanced safety and reduced environmental impact achieved using a [UAV] with the specifications described” makes it within the public interest.  However, the limitations essentially negate the usefulness of the exemption.  It seems like the FAA granted to exemption to show it is doing something, but granted it in a way that it knew it would be useless.

Tucson VFR

A quick update on other news:

Close to home, there have been six “drone sightings” by pilots in Massachusetts in the past seven months.  Honestly, some sound dubious, but most, if accurate, are not your run-on-the-mill Phantom.  They seem larger and are flying at higher elevations: http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/techflash/2015/01/pilots-have-encountered-drones-six-times-in-the.html

The UK authorities are reminding people that it is illegal to fly drones near crowds or landmarks.  This is because people are doing it.  Again, unless you’re an absolute pro who has coordinated with authorities, I’m not sure why flying your amateur drone over lots of people in downtown London or near landmarks known to be terrorist targets seems like a good idea: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11327001/Police-warn-that-flying-drones-near-landmarks-is-illegal.html

A drone user is coming under scrutiny from a local Police Chief after his aerial video of Christmas lights surfaced online.  He seems to have had a safe plan and sought out the police, but doesn’t sound like the police chief got the memo.  Illustrates my point that you need to be ready to justify your actions.  If my use was questionable, I’d have written authorization in my pocket while flying! http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-lisle/ct-drones-naperville-tl-20150105-story.html

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