The FAA’s new rule (or Part 107) for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (also known as sUAS or drones) took effect on Monday, August 29, 2016. Existing Section 333 Exemption holders may choose to continue operating under the terms and conditions of their exemption until it expires or operate under Part 107 as long as they comply with the rule’s limitations. Whether to operate under a current Section 333 Exemption or Part 107 is the operator’s choice and depends on the nature of the operation.

What Happened to Section 333 Exemption Petitions

Prior to Part 107, sUAS operators needed to petition for a Section 333 Exemption to operate sUAS in the National Airspace System (NAS). Shortly after announcing Part 107, the FAA stopped processing the majority of pending petitions. Petitions seeking operations requiring a waiver under the new rule were treated as waiver requests under Part 107, and petitions for operations falling outside the scope of Part 107 continued to be processed. When Part 107 went into effect, the FAA granted waivers for 76 pending Section 333 Exemption petitions. The majority involved nighttime operations. Others included waivers for operations over people and flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

Section 333 Exemption or Part 107 – The Choice is Yours

Now that Part 107 is effective, operators can choose to operate either under the terms and conditions of their current Section 333 Exemption and Certificate of Authorization (COA) or under Part 107. Operators should compare the limitations and conditions contained in their Section 333 Exemption and in Part 107 to decide what framework better fits their needs. For more details on Part 107 limitations, read our blog post Drones in the Sky: An Analysis of FAA’s Milestone Rules for Commercial Operations.

FAA’s Next Challenges

The FAA’s new rule for sUAS is intended to provide a smooth transition between current Section 333 Exemptions and operations under Part 107 limitations and waivers. The UAS framework is meant to be flexible, striking a balance between innovation and safety. The FAA is currently working on a proposal to allow flights BVLOS and intends to propose a rule for UAS operations over people by the end of this calendar year.