The Lowdown On Drones: Exploring Exemptions

    For the past five years, the Federal Aviation Administration has worked to establish regulations for drone operations, but its self-imposed deadline of Dec. 22, 2014 came and went. Due to this hold up, the United States is expecting 2015 to be a year full of drone talk, but will it also walk the walk?

    Section 333 is a key initiative for the FAA in regards to the safety regulations for commercial applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Systems. Overall, there is a wide ban on commercial drone use aside from the few exceptions made by the FAA this year. Controversial rules are set to be proposed in the coming months, passing from the FAA to congress.

    The first FAA approved commercial drone flight took place in June 2014, over Alaska's North Slope by Aerovironment. People expected this to be the first of many commercial drone applications to receive approval, but since then the list of drone-exemptions lies at just 13 companies. These exemptions were carefully selected out of a pile of over 167 applications. On Tuesday, the first allowances for agricultural and real estate purposes were granted, adding to the short list of U.S. commercial drone permits.


    The filmmaking industry saw the first major success in UAV exemptions from the FAA.  Reasonably so, filmmakers sought drone approval for increased vantage points in cinematic photography. The exemption was granted by the FAA in regards that UAS provide an additional tool for the filmmaking industry, adding a greater degree of flexibility, which supplements the current capabilities offered by manned aircraft, according to the Summary Grant from the FAA to Aerial MOB.

    Aerial MOB was one of five filmmaking exemptions granted on Sept, 25 2014. Shortly after, on Oct. 10, 2014 came Flying Cam LLC. Drone photography will expand movie horizons without an expenditure to match.

    Aerial Surveying

    The next set of approval came from the FAA for aerial surveying from oil-flare inspections to mapping purposes at the end of 2014. On December 10, 2014, four companies received approval for commercial drone use by the FAA. Amongst the companies is Trimble Navigation, a holding in the ROBO Global index.

    Trimble's approval is for a 5.5 pound drone that will take precise digital photographs for surveying purposes. VDOS will use drones for Shell Oil inspection in the Gulf of Mexico, Clayco construction sites surveying and lastly, Woolpert will use 15-foot drones in support of mapping rural Ohio and Mississippi. Each of these applications must meet the FAA drone safety rules, only operating at least five miles from the nearest airport and weighing under 55 pounds.

    Agricultural and Real Estate

    There's been talk about the potential benefits for aerial photography for farming and insurance claim purposes but only on January 6, 2015 did the first company in each realm receive approval for drone use.

    Advanced Aviation Solutions will use UAVS for farmland surveying. Through aerial eyes, the company will use drone photography for insight on crop health, watching for pest invasion and performing precision farming. This first agricultural approval has the ability to pave the road for a revolutionized world of farming in terms of decreased expenses and giving farmers a new look on old land.

    According to the FAA statement on the grant for real estate photography, the exemption permits Tierra Antigua Realty fly a Phantom 2 Vision + quadcopter to enhance academic community awareness and augment real estate listing videos.

    With commercial drone exemptions only continuing to grow in the coming year, the U.S. will slowly but surely begin to capitalize on the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's estimated $10 billion economic benefits and job creation to come with commercial drone expansion. While we can expect a long road ahead before drones and airplanes are happily sharing the skies, it will surely be an interesting ride.

    By: Erica Allaby, Content Manager, ROBO Global

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