Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have been rapidly increasing in popularity for quite some time now. Unfortunately, the laws and rules for flying them have been slow to keep up.
As a result, a lot of questions have been brought up about what exactly is a legal UAV pilot? What are the rules if you want to take your camera to the sky? It can be difficult to interpret the laws and rules from the FAA, so here are some of the most essential steps you need to know before taking off with a drone:
What is a 333 Exemption?
If you live in the United States and make income with Aerial Photography Services, you are currently required by the FAA to have a 333 exemption. This exemption means that the FAA has clearly determined that you are a safe and reliable pilot, granting you permission to fly commercially. The FAA makes these exemptions on a case-by-case basis. (Get more details here: FAA).
The Section 333 Exemption process provides operators who wish to pursue safe and legal entry into the NAS a competitive advantage in the Aerial Photography marketplace, thus discouraging illegal operations and improving safety. It is anticipated that this activity will result in significant economic benefits, and the FAA Administrator has identified this as an extremely high priority project to address demand for civil operation of UAS for commercial purposes.
Do I need a 333 exemption?
Taking a drone to the sky to photograph or film for any commercial reason requires a 333 exemption from the FAA. Otherwise, you are considered a hobbyist and performing jobs for pay is in violation of the law as a so called: “Aerial Photography Company”.
How do I file 333 paperwork?
To file a 333 exemption, you will need to submit the following to the FAA:
- Your name, mailing address, email address, and phone number.
- The extent and reason that you are seeking an exemption.
- How your business and your UAV will benefit the public.
- Steps that you take to fly your UAV safely including safe areas that you most frequently fly.
- If you wish to fly outside of the United States.
- Any other information that is relevant to the FAA for granting an exemption. More details are always better.
Does it cost money to file a 333 exemption?
There is no fee for applying for or obtaining a 333 exemption, however, although it is not necessary, many who apply will often do so through a law firm and service fees will typically vary per firm.
How long does it take to process a 333 exemption?
The FAA says that it can take up to 120 days to process an exemption, but most are being accepted about 90 days from the date filed. Exemptions, however, are piling up and a backlog is likely happening. The processing time will likely increase as time moves forward and more and more Aerial Photography Companies come into existence.
What rules do I have to follow after obtaining my 333 exemption?
The list is long, but the most notable rules include:
- Keeping your UAV within site at all times even if you have a remote camera on board
- UAVs should fly no higher than 400 feet
- UAVs should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas.
- UAVs should only be flown during the daytime
Certain areas are off limits to flying UAVs, commercially or non-commercially. This no-fly zone map is a valuable resource for Aerial Photography Service providers to know exactly where it is off limits to fly.
We highly recommend that you do not fly:
- Over stadiums
- Anywhere near airports
- Or over places where people congregate
When flying over buildings, it is best to notify all within the area of your plans and schedule.
Do I need a pilot’s license to file a 333 exemption?
The person obtaining the 333 exemption for a company does not have to be a licensed pilot, however, whoever is piloting the drone must be a certified pilot. This pilot can either be an employee of the exempt company or an independent contractor. Applying for the exemption doesn’t require a person on your team carrying a pilot’s license. You can still apply for a 333 under the assumption that your future pilots will have a pilot’s license.
Can a 333 exemption be revoked?
Yes, the FAA can revoke a 333 exemption for any reason at any time. Flying safely and responsibly will keep you off of their radar.
Where can I begin the application process?
You can begin requesting your 333 exemption here:
Aren’t all of these laws changing soon?
As you can probably see, legally flying a drone is not easy, and we are all looking forward to the day when these laws become more clear. In the short term, there are more jobs than pilots to go around. To fill them, a 333 exemption is a necessity in order to legally participate in this fast growing industry.
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