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Posted by on Aug 24, 2015

FAA 333 Approved, But are you Complying?

FAA 333 Approved, But are you Complying?

FAA APPROVED…BUT are you compliant?

We keep seeing more companies taking to the web to proclaim they are “FAA APPROVED” but what does that actually mean?  The problem I see is that while more and more are getting their approval from the FAA, they are failing miserably at complying or not even trying at all to comply with the special conditions of their COA’s (Certificate of Authorization).

Respironics-SimplyGo-FAA-Approved-300x270-300x270If you’re thinking of getting your 333, or in the process of getting your COA, their are a few things that you should consider before filing for the COA or even proclaiming to be “APPROVED”.

A major misconception with having a COA or flying under the 200ft “Blanket COA” doesn’t mean that you can fly anytime, anywhere with whoever you want. There are certain things that need to be done.

For my company, we are approved for Closed Set Filming for TV & Motion Picture as well as Aerial Data Collection.  With our COA, there are a few extra manuals that we need to have with us whenever we fly.  Not all COA’s are the same unless we are talking about categories, then they are the same within your specific industry.

1. You need to be a pilot or have a pilot fly for you. If you don’t personally or can’t meet this by hiring a person to fly your aerial system…stop here since you simply don’t qualify.

2. Report all flights to the FAA, here is the actual requirement below.

1. Documentation of all operations associated with UAS activities is required regardless of the airspace in which the UAS operates. NOTE: Negative (zero flights) reports are required.

2. The operator must submit the following information through on a monthly basis:

a. Name of Operator, Exemption number and Aircraft registration number

b. UAS type and model

c. All operating locations, to include location city/name and latitude/longitude

d. Number of flights (per location, per aircraft)

e. Total aircraft operational hours

f. Takeoff or Landing damage

g. Equipment malfunctions. Reportable malfunctions include, but are not limited to the following:

(1) On-board flight control system

(2) Navigation system 

(3) Powerplant failure in flight 

(4) Fuel system failure 

(5) Electrical system failure 

(6) Control station failure

3. The number and duration of lost link events (control, performance and health monitoring, or communications) per UA per flight.”

3. File a NOTAM when you fly (24-72hrs) in advance but nothing less or more.  (We’ve had to file a NOTAM for simply flying 10ft AGL over a pool for a shot)

4. Have all of your FAA documents, manuals, COA, Exemption, Pilots License, Medical Certificate, Aircraft Registration and EVERY OTHER required piece of information as stated in your COA.

5. File and have approved your POA (Plan of Action) if required in your area and COA. (If required by your COA)

6. Request a special COA if flying within 5/3/2 Nautical Miles of an Airport or Helipad.

The above are just a few of the basic things that you need to do, if you can’t or don’t meet any of them;  While you may be “FAA APPROVED” on paper you do not meet the requirements to fly “legally” according to the Exemption and COA that you have requested from the FAA.

Just a bit of info to help you out and give you some insight as to what it takes to have and maintain your 333.  We are all looking for an easier solution but at this point in time this is what we have to work with as an industry.

If you are considering or even have a 333 presently you really need to rethink what you are or will be doing and if you can’t comply don’t waste your time, money or energy since in reality you will still be flying “rouge” except if you hold a 333 and don’t comply you can easily have it revoked in an FAA Enforcement Action.

Any questions, don’t be afraid to ask here or even consult with your local FAA FSDO to get more information.

  • Stephen

    Mike, With all the confusion around what is takes to fly a drone as a business, this is the best article that I have read. You have done an excellent job outlining all the requirements once you receive your 333 exception. Unfortunately, when I applied for 333 (still waiting for approval), I was under the impression that it waived the requirement for being a licensed pilot. Do you see this changing when the FAA publishes the new requirements this June?

    • Candoux Productions

      I was under the same impression. I could swear that I actually read that the pilot license requirement was no longer a requirement. That’s the main reason I applied for and received a 333 exemption.

      • Mike Fortin

        You still need a pilots license to enjoy the benefit of the 333 exemption. This has not changed. It may change in the future but everything I’ve heard points to that this may not change when it comes to commercial operations.

        • Candoux Productions

          I’m assuming that what I read is that you don’t need a license just to apply. Luckily I have a pilot with a private license and I’m working on my sport as we speak.

        • timfieldsphotography

          Can you point me to any sources that cast a shadow of doubt on that part of the proposed Section 107 that eliminates the requirement for at least a SPL? As I read it they fully intend to only require an aeronautical knowledge test, TSA Clearance and obtain a new UAS operator certificate. I’ve seen many other comments on the interwebs doubtful that this will come to pass and suggesting the sport pilot license will remain as a minimum airman certificate but I can’t find any evidence pointing to this reversal.

          I can imagine the anger of someone who went to the trouble and expense of becoming a licensed pilot purely to fly a drone commercially, only to see that requirement lifted. All of this doubt as to the future rules and requirements make it nearly impossible to develop a business plan since it is hard to gauge the level of competition which is wildly different depending on this very point.

  • Jim Milward

    I think that the approval documentation relates to the specific user’s original request and needs. These are all public records on the FAA website, and after looking at a few of them I could se that there were in fact different requirements for different applicants.

    Here is an example of an approval document from the FAA. Notice that the condition of the approval is that the drone (UAS) operator must have a second person present as a visual observer (VO) when operating the UAS. Night flying is also prohibited in this example.

    If you’re flying your UAS recreationally you can fly at night and do other things legally and the FAA does not require a VO. So you can see that once you start a business using a drone, you have some very strict guidelines to adhere to. Fines can be up to $250k and 3 years in jail.

    There have been 3087 approved Section 333 exemption grants by the FAA to date, according to their website.

    If you’re interested in filing for a Petition of Exemption 14 CFR sec 11.81 here is a good place to start:

  • Hunter Starnes

    Thanks for your article! Would it be possible to fly a drone commercially and not have a pilot license if I stay under a certain height. For example, if I fly under 100 feet and document it? Thanks!

    • PXLpainter

      Unfortunately, not int he current state of the FAA exemption language. We’re all hoping they come to their senses on that issue soon. 🙂

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