FAA approving more 333 exemptions; Petitions granted has exceeded 60
San Diego Gas & Electric became the latest organization to gain FAA approval to fly UAS for commercial operation. SDG&E, the second energy company to gain 333 status, originally had approval to fly small UAS in remote areas of San Diego County but now has approval to fly across its service area.
The California energy company was one of many organizations to get Section 333 approval in March 2015. 30 companies and individuals gained FAA approval, with 16 coming in the last eight days. The following gained approval since March 24, 2015:
- San Diego Gas & Electric – Electric Grids
- Southern Electric Company – Power Lines
- Utility Aerial Services – Utility Inspection
- Phoenix Air Unmanned – Multiple Applications
- Aerius Flight – Survey & Photography
- Aeryon Labs – Research, Surveillance, Mapping & Inspection
- MircoCopter Professional Services – Filming & Inspections
- Montico – Tower Inspections & Mapping Operations
- Vision Services Group – Forestry & Agricultural Data Collection
- Wilbur-Ellis Company – Agriculture
- NextEra Energy – Energy Infrastructure Inspection
- Oceaneering International – Safety Inspections & Surveillance
- Industrial Aerobotics – Surveillance
- EnviroMINE – Surface Mining
- Steven Zeets – Acquisition & Research
- Jeffrey Walsh – Acuisition & Research
This rise in FAA approvals gives hope to many other organizations who have filed section 333 exemptions. The approval process appears to have become more streamlined to help more industries explore the potential of commercial UAS.
The FAA – intentionally or not – has put an emphasis on safety inspection services. Many of those listed above are hired to mitigate safety risks and ensure infrastructure is being cared for. Meanwhile there are still few companies that provide consumer services that have been approved. Because of the massive potential of these organizations – Amazon and the like – to use sUAS in well-populated areas, the FAA is likely hesitant to approve their testing.
The FAA is not moving as quickly as many would like but this recent outpour of approvals sets a better precedent, and the massive feedback they have/will receive on their NPRM will alert them of all the factors in integrated UAS into the national airspace. The announcement they made in December 2014 about rules not being established till at least 2017 seems more understandable, based on the current trend of integration.
Regulations on Section 333 approved companies have also been loosened, after many early-stage approved companies found it difficult to actually operate under the boundaries set. Even with these limitations, the first wave of approved organizations have seen spikes in interest and have big plans for their future operations. To learn more about commercial UAS operations in the United States, check out the Fireside Chat on December 16, 2015 at USI 2015. Leaders from some of the first companies to gain 333 clearance will share the hurdles, successes, and lessons learned since gaining clearance to fly commercially. For more information, see the USI 2015 Agenda and register for the conference.
Gavin Holdgreiwe | Unmanned Systems Institute