VOLUME 16 Unmanned Aircraft Systems
CHAPTER 4 Operational Requirements and approval
Section 2 Operations in Accordance
with PL 112-95, Section 333, and Exemptions
16-4-2-1 PURPOSE. This section provides guidance and policy to
aviation safety inspectors (ASI) concerning the inspection and surveillance
of civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations conducted in the National
Airspace System (NAS) under a Section 333 Special Rules for Certain Unmanned
Aircraft Systems and a grant of exemption issued under Title 14 of the Code
of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part
General Rulemaking Procedures.
16-4-2-3 AUDIENCE. The primary audience for this notice is all
regional Flight Standards divisions (RFSD) and Flight Standards District Office
(FSDO) ASIs. The secondary audience includes headquarters (HQ) Flight Standards
Service (AFS) policy divisions responsible for implementation.
16-4-2-5 BACKGROUND. In 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) published a notice in the Federal Register (FR) (72 FR 6689, February
13, 2007) stating that all unmanned aircraft (UA), regardless of size, performance
capability, or purpose of flight, are considered aircraft. This determination
was made in response to the dramatic growth in the number of unmanned operations
being conducted; the reliance on complex, uncertified technologies; and the
resulting overall increase in risks to persons in the air and on the ground.
A. Public Law (PL) 112-95. On February 14, 2012 the President
signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform
Act of 2012 (Public Law (PL) 112-95), which established in Section 333 a requirement
for the Secretary of Transportation to determine if certain UAS may operate
safely in the NAS based on criteria set forth in Section 333(b) prior to the
compliance with Section 332 and/or Section 334 of this Act.
B. Exemptions. The Secretary of Transportation has determined
that certain UAS are eligible to operate in the NAS without possessing the airworthiness
certification required under Title 49 of the United States Code (49 U.S.C.)
§ 44704. For civil UAS operations conducted under Section 333 of PL 112-95,
the Secretary has determined that specific requirements necessary for the safe
operation are addressed in the form of grants of exemption(s).
1) Persons who desire this regulatory relief must petition the
Administrator for exemption in accordance with part
and the guidance provided at
For a complete list of exemptions granted under Section 333 of PL 112-95 visit
2) Public/governmental entities may also petition the Administrator
for a grant of exemption of applicable regulations to conduct civil operations using UAS.
a) Examples of petitions that have been granted to conduct civil UAS operations include the following activities:
· Closed-set motion picture and television filming.
· Agricultural survey and spraying.
· Aerial photography.
· Land survey and inspection.
· Inspection of structures.
· Search and Rescue (SAR) operations.
· Pilot training.
· Research and development (R&D).
16-4-2-7 EXEMPTION APPLICATION. Petitioners seeking a grant of
exemption fill out an online application on the public docket at
A. Guidance Materials. Detailed guidance, including a Section
333 checklist and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section, as well as other
guidance materials, is available on the UAS Integration Office (AFS‑80) Web
site under Petitioning for Exemption under Section 333.
B. Federal Register. Federal Register is the official daily publication
for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations,
as well as executive orders and other presidential documents.
1) The “Regulations.gov Docket Info” sidebar to the right of
Federal Register documents identifies the public comment docket, and links to
the docket folder, the comments received, and any supporting materials contained
in the docket.
2) The docket staff assigns a docket number. For petitions submitted
under Section 333, the sequence is “FAA-year-four digit sequence number” (e.g., FAA-2016-1234).
16-4-2-9 OFFICE OF RULEMAKING. The FAA Office of Rulemaking (ARM)
receives all initial petitions for exemption, and requests for amendment, through
the mail or via the docket. If received through the mail, the petition must
be sent to the Docket Office for processing. When received from the docket,
ARM downloads the documents to dedicated computer drive and reviews the petition
to determine the Office of Primary Responsibility (OPR), and assigns an analyst.
Exemption requests representing unique or precedent-setting operations will
be sent to AFS-80 for an indepth review. If the petition is similar in all material
respects to others previously granted, it remains within ARM and will be processed
as a summary grant.
16-4-2-11 GRANTS OF EXEMPTION. Exemptions granted for the commercial operation
of UAS under the provisions of Section 333 of PL 112-95, will be in one of three
forms: either a full grant of exemption, a partial grant, or a summary grant
of exemption. Petitioners submitting a petition for exemption representing unique
or precedent setting operations will receive an indepth review, and if approved
will lead to a full or partial grant of exemption. A summary grant is granted
when the FAA finds an exemption has been previously granted for circumstances
similar in all material respects to those presented in an individual’s petition.
16-4-2-13 CERTIFICATE OF WAIVER OR AUTHORIZATION (COA). Under current policy,
when a petitioner is granted an exemption they will also receive a COA approved
by the FAA Air Traffic Organization (ATO) Emerging Technologies Team (AJV-115).
Though approved by AJV-115, the COA is issued by ARM when the grant of exemption
is approved. In some instances, the COA is issued to the petitioner by name;
however, in most cases, the COA is issued to “Any Operator with a valid Section
333 Grant of Exemption.” These COAs will be approved limiting operations to
altitudes at or below 400 feet above ground level (AGL) and within certain distances
from airports as prescribed in the special provisions in the COA. These COAs
are sometimes referred to as “broad area or blanket COAs.” If an exemption holder
desires to operate at a distance from an airport contrary to the special provisions
prescribed in a “blanket COA”, they must make application for a site-specific
COA through the AJV-115. All requests should be submitted at least 60 days in
16-4-2-15 ACTION. When a FSDO becomes aware that an exemption has been
granted to a UAS operator under the provisions under Section 333 of PL 112-95
that is within their geographic area of responsibility, the FSDO managers may
elect to contact each exemption holder that resides within their respective
districts to secure a copy of their grant of exemption, broad area COA, and
operating documents to establish an office file for the exemption holder.
A. Compliance. PL 112-95 defines UA as an “aircraft.” Therefore,
compliance with all applicable CFRs is required. FSDO managers should allocate
sufficient resources, when available, to perform targeted surveillance of an
exemption holder to determine compliance with the conditions and limitations
set forth in their grant of exemption, the special provisions contained in a
COA, and the exemption holder’s operating documents, in the public interest.
B. Surveillance and Inspection. Surveillance and/or inspection
of the holder of an exemption granted to a UAS operator under the provision
of under Section 333 of PL 112-95 should be conducted in accordance with the
guidance contained in this volume.
C. Variations in 8900.1. Inspectors should be aware that important
chapters/sections in FAA Order 8900.1 concerning surveillance are based on manned
aircraft operations, and may vary noticeably from exemptions granted under Section
333 of PL 112-95. Similarly, there may be significant differences between guidance
found in 8900.1 Volume 3, and the processes used by ARM and AFS-80. For example,
operating documents submitted and referenced in a grant of exemption provide
the basis for the petitioner’s equivalent level, or no adverse impact upon safety
1) This does not necessarily mean that the operating documents
have been approved or accepted by the FAA unless specifically noted in a grant of exemption.
2) Therefore, an exemption holder may make revisions to their
operating documents provided the revision does not change the basis for which
relief was originally granted under the exemption, or are contrary to a conditions
and limitations in an exemption.
D. Operating Documents. The operating documents are often generic,
and produced by the UA manufacturer. The primary documents for surveillance
or inspection are the grant of exemption, COA and the exemption holder’s operating
documents. Adherence to those
conditions and limitations within the exemption, the special provisions within
the COA and the operating documents are required for the operator to be in regulatory
1) Inspectors familiar with reviewing detailed manuals for typical
commercial operations should exercise caution and not apply standards usually
applied to 14 CFR part
holders conducting operations under part
2) Where differences are encountered between the exemption holders’
operating documents and the conditions and limitations in a grant of exemption,
the conditions and limitations in a grant of exemption take precedent.
E. Specific Examples. ASIs should pay particular attention to
the following areas:
1) Pilot Certification. Each exemption includes numerous conditions
and limitations which provide requirements related to pilot certification, currency
and training. Medical requirements are also included where applicable. These
requirements may vary considerably from one exemption to another (e.g., sport
pilot with a valid state driver’s license, through airline transport pilot (ATP)
with a First Class FAA medical, or any combination of pilot’s certificate and
medical, including an ATP with driver’s license.) Adherence to the conditions
and limitations section of the exemption is required.
2) Aircraft Registration. The exemption requires that each UAS
is registered and marked prior to operations; however, registration is not required
at the time an exemption is granted.
3) Aircraft Model Numbers. Similar to manned aircraft, UA model
numbers may be entered in the Program Tracking and Reporting Subsystem (PTRS).
4) Regulatory Compliance. The UAS pilot in command (PIC) is responsible
for complying with all applicable regulations unless an exemption to a particular
regulation has been granted.
5) Aircraft Maintenance. Exemptions granting relief from certain 14 CFR part
requirements will contain conditions and limitations
related to maintenance and inspection requirements in the grant of exemption.
The exemption holder’s operating documents must be adhered to when operating
under the terms of exemptions.
6) Operational Area. Must be within visual line of sight of the
pilot. Depending on the size and speed of the UAS and current weather conditions,
it may be challenging to keep the UA within visual line of sight of the PIC
at all times.
7) Operations in Proximity to Persons, Vehicles, Structures, etc.
ASIs should pay particular attention to the requirements of §
relevant conditions and limitations in the exemption.
8) Compliance with Conditions and Limitations Listed in the Grant
of Exemption and Special Provisions in the COA. Conditions and limitations
and/or special provisions contained within the exemption or COA are considered
to be mandatory. If the PIC
fails to comply with any condition or limitation, the ASI must immediately notify
the PIC and determine if follow-up action is necessary.
9) Airworthiness Certification Per 49 U.S.C. § 44704. The Secretary
of Transportation has made the determination that airworthiness certification
per 49 U.S.C. § 44704 is not necessary; therefore, UAS operated in accordance
with a grant of exemption issued under the provisions of Section 333 of PL 112-95,
will not possess or require an airworthiness certificate.
16-4-2-17 COMPLIANCE AND ENFORCEMENT. UAS operations described in this notice
are conducted in accordance with our current regulatory structure. When an apparent
violation exists, ASIs must investigate in accordance with current guidance
contained in FAA Order
FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program, and 8900.1,
Volumes 14 and 16. ASIs must document all surveillance activities in accordance
with PTRS guidance.
16-4-2-19 REFERENCE MATERIAL (current editions).
· FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office Web site:
access exemptions granted to UAS operators
under the provisions of Section 333 of PL 112-95, U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO)).
· Title 14 CFR Part
General Rulemaking Procedures, §
· PL 112-95:
“Public Laws” and enter 112-95 in the search row).
· N JO 7210.891, Unmanned
Aircraft Operations in the National Airspace System (NAS) (Air Traffic Organization Policy).
16-4-2-21 through 16-4-2-35 RESERVED.