The FAA has made several changes that will make life easier both for new Section 333 exemption holders and the UAS Integration Office.  Up until now, the FAA has required anyone seeking an exemption to list all of the makes and models of UAS that they want to use.  When the exemption was granted, it was limited to those vehicles.  If the exemption holder subsequently wanted to buy a new UAS, an amendment was required to add the new make and model.  Needless to say, this has been an enormous strain on the system, as the UAS Integration Office has been flooded with numerous requests by businesses to amend their exemptions to include new equipment.

This is no longer the case.  All exemptions granted in the past week now have the following language:

The petitioner proposed to use UAS that have previously been approved by the Secretary of Transportation under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. UAS that have been previously approved by the Secretary, including the aircraft proposed by the petitioner, are found on the List of Approved Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) under Section 333. The list, which is updated monthly, is posted at www.regulations.gov under docket number FAA-2007-3330. The petitioner is also authorized to operate any UAS on that list, when weighing less than 55 pounds including payload while this exemption is valid.

Essentially, these new exemption holders are permitted to operate any of the 1,120 makes and models of UAS that have previously been approved by the FAA.  In addition, as new petitions are granted, the list will be updated, and those new models will essentially be grandfathered into the exemption.  Of course, not all of the UAS on the list are commercially available.  For example, the Utah State University Minion and Titan are unique proprietary research and development designs.  Nevertheless, this new approach provides unprecedented flexibility for UAS operators to change their inventory to meet the needs of customers.

Unfortunately, this change does not help any existing exemption holders.  Legally, each exemption is limited to its terms, and only permits the specific operations that are set out in the exemption.  As a result, if your grant only lists specific models, you are still limited to those models.  Plane-ly Spoken has been informed that in the next day or two, the FAA will add a note to its website stating that anyone who wants to take advantage of this new policy will have to apply for an amendment.

This situation exists because, for better or worse, the FAA’s toolbox contains only two tools, rulemaking and exemptions, and neither are suited to the speed at which the industry has developed.  Major rulemaking is a ponderous and resource-intensive process.  By government standards, Part 107 has moved with lightning speed, but that still means 18-24 months.  Exemptions can be done faster, but the system is not set up to handle the demand and it is not very flexible.  At the end of the day, all operators can do is continue to move forward and hope that the law will be able to keep up.