You have probably heard that the FAA recently granted more exemptions to UAS companies. You may have heard their names in the news. If you’re like us, though, you want to know more about what the companies do, who is involved, and how they got the FAA to give them the much-desired exemptions. In this week’s blog we’ll survey the companies that comprise the 8% approval rating of the 342 requests.
Who has been exempted?
In order, the FAA has awarded an exemption to: Astraeus Aerial, with summary grants of exemption to Aerial MOB, Pictorvision, HeliVideo Productions, Snaproll Media, RC Pro Productions Consulting (Vortex Aerial), and Flying-Cam Inc.. In December 2014 grants of exemption were announced for Clayco, Trimble Navigation, VDOS Global, and Woolpert. In January 2015 grants of exemption were awarded to Tierra Antigua Realty and Advanced Aviation Solutions; later to AeroCine and Burnz Eye View; and then to Shotover, Slugwear (dba LikeonaTree), Team 5, and Total Safety U.S.. In early February 2015 grants of exemption went to Helinet Aviation Services and Alan D. Purwin, with amendments made to the exemptions for Aerial MOB and Pictorvision. The most recent grants of exemption went to Pravia, Viafield, Blue-Chip UAS, and Asymmetric Technologies.
What do they do?
The first round of exemptions—the Astraeus Aerial group, represented by Jonathan B. Hill and John McGraw—occurred in May 2014 and was made up of of seven enterprises in the aerial filming industry. They are now cleared for closed-set filming. The December round of exemptions were for inspection companies: Clayco does aerial imaging and construction, Trimble is precision aerial surveying and agriculture, VDOS does flare stack inspection, and Woolpert does precision aerial surveying. The January exemptions went to a mixed group: Tierra Antigua Realty of course does real estate photography and videography, Advanced Aviation Solutions works in precision agriculture, AeroCine does aerial filming, Burnz Eye View does aerial photography and inspection, LikeOnATree does aerial photography, Total Safety U.S. does flare stack inspections, and Team 5 does aerial filming, motion picture, and television. The next round of exemptions was for aerial filming, motion picture, and television; the amendments were for the closed-set filming companies. The most recent grants made another mixed bag: Pravia does agriculture analysis and high-resolution aerial imagery, Viafield works in precision agriculture, Blue-Chip UAS does aerial photography for a variety of industries, and Asymmetric Technologies does bridge inspections.
Why did the FAA think they were worth it?
The FAA’s analysis of the Astraeus Aerial petition demonstrates what the FAA is looking for from petitioners. This is a 29 page grant of exemption, so we wanted to highlight the parts we thought were most significant.
1. Astraeus showed the FAA that its operations wouldn’t adversely affect safety compared to similar operations conducted with aircraft that have been issued an airworthiness certificate under 14 CFR part 21, Subpart H.
2. The limited weight, size, operating conditions, and design safety features of an unmanned aircraft—versus a helicopter, which is the usual craft used for filming—significantly reduces the potential for harm to participating and nonparticipating individuals or property in the event of an incident or accident. Also, human risk for the pilot or crew is completely eliminated.
3. Unmanned aircraft carry no fuel so the risk of fire (on a film set) following an incident or accident due to fuel spillage is eliminated.
4. Because the exemption doesn’t require transponders or sense and avoid technology, the FAA placed limits on altitude, stand-off distance from clouds, will permit daytime operations only, requires that the aircraft be operated within visual line of sight and yield right of way to all other manned operations, and the operator must request a notice to airman prior to operations to alert other users in the airspace.
5. The FAA found that Astraeus didn’t provide a sufficient safety case or mitigations to fly at night. Although the film sets will have lighting, the company didn’t provide sufficient data and analysis regarding the abilities of the Pilots in Command (PICs) and Visual Observers (VOs) to maintain visual line of sight with the aircraft to avoid collision hazards at night.
6. As you may know, the Air Line Pilots Association and other groups voiced concerns about the UAS pilot possessing a commercial pilot certificate with appropriate category and class rating for the type of aircraft being flown, the corresponding second class medical certificate, and specific and adequate training on the UAS make and model intended to be used. The FAA shares those concerns; however, it decided that the combination of aeronautical knowledge, UAS airmanship skills, and verification through testing was a sufficient method for Astraeus to evaluate a pilot’s qualifications. The upshot: The PIC must possess at least a private pilot certificate and at least a current third-class medical certificate.
7. Public interest: This is always an interesting motive. The FAA found that a grant of exemption was in the public interest here because of the human risk elimination and because UAS provide an additional tool for the filmmaking industry, which adds a greater degree of flexibility, which supplements the current capabilities offered by manned aircraft.
8. The FAA made a few more demands that are pretty standard. These include, but are definitely not limited to: Prior to each flight the PIC must inspect the UAS to ensure it is in a condition for safe flight; the operator must ensure that nobody is allowed within 500 feet of the area except those consenting to be involved and necessary for the filming production; each UAS operation must be completed within 30 minutes flight time or with 25% battery power remaining, whichever occurs first; and the UAS may not be operated by the PIC from any moving device or vehicle.
So what is next?
Astraeus’ exemption terminates on September 30, 2016, unless sooner superseded or rescinded, which we hope doesn’t happen. We are all eager to see more exemptions granted. The FAA seems to be improving on their rate of granting exemptions, and we hope to see even better improvement. Based on the categories of companies that have been given exemptions, we predict we will see more survey/inspection and real estate photography/filming exemptions granted in the near future.