Who's getting UAS exemptions from the FAA?

In May 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration began accepting applications from those who wanted to operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) commercially  without the airworthiness certificate that is usually required for commercial aircraft. By July 31 of this year, the FAA had issued 1,000 such exemptions -- and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has crunched the data to see just how and where UAS are being used.

The immediate takeaway? Use cases that are inherently government-oriented, such as emergency management or search and rescue, are a tiny sliver or the first 1,000 exemptions. More than half of the exemptions were for aerial photography, while real estate, aerial surveying and agriculture were also mentioned in hundreds of the applications. Search and rescue was cited for 52 exemptions, while just 38 mentioned emergency management.

The AUVSI analysis also found that commercial UAS use was widespread (exemptions were granted in 49 different states) and growing quickly (nearly 2,500 exemptions had been requested, showing a rapid ramp-up in demand).   The vast majority of approved operators are small businesses, according to the data, and AUVSI also found that UAS manufacturers now exist in 22 different states.

The study comes as the Sept. 30 deadline for the integration of UAS into the national airspace is fast approaching.  In Sept. 10 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne urged the FAA to move quickly on finalizing its rules and to preempt state efforts to begin regulating airspaces and unmanned systems. 

The FAA has had more than three years to put a small-UAS rule in place," Wynne said in his prepared testimony.  "There’s tremendous pent-up demand for commercial UAS operations; yet the FAA isn’t expected to meet this deadline.”

“In the absence of FAA action," he warned, "we may soon be facing a legal quagmire. ... If the FAA feels it needs clarification of its authority, I would urge Congress to provide such clarity and legislatively settle this issue.”

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