The Next Step For UAS Commercialization

By Luke Geiver | March 26, 2015

Editorial team coverage of a major industry announcement is something I wish everyone outside of our Ed offices could experience at least once. When a big story or announcement breaks, there is this internal buzz and rush of immediacy that flows through the room. The bigger the story, the more important the announcement, the greater the impact posted content on the event will have—the more deeply that buzz enters into your body, energizing your fingers and your mind. Rarely do we remember or talk about random days spent grinding away on a story, but when we gather to cover a major story on a fast-as-we-can-get-it-out story deadline, we’ll always remember those times.

When the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration officially announced major changes to its certificate of authorization granting process this week, there was a buzz in the room. Upon learning of the announcement, I and Emily Aasand began immediately working to gain insight on what the FAA’s announcement would mean for the industry. Another team member, Patrick Miller, was away from his desk, but as soon as he returned he also began seeking out commentary (he already knew about the announcement when he returned and knew why we were bombarding him with talk immediately upon his return).

We have since posted a longer-than-normal web story on our magazine’s website and have plans for print coverage as well. The basics of the story are this: UAS commercial entities that apply for and receive a Section 333 exemption to operate commercially can now begin operating immediately after receiving the exemption if they are willing to operate at or below 200 feet. If they are willing to do so, the FAA will grant them an immediate COA that applies to all operations across the entire U.S. (given a few other guidelines are followed). The tweaked COA process will certainly bring more operations online in quicker time.

The FAA’s announcement also sheds light on what could, hopefully, be the next step in the major commercialization of the UAS industry. To get the COA, the UAS entity must always first receive the Section 333 exemption. To date, more than 650 companies have applied for the exemption and only 60 have received them. With this COA announcement behind them, the FAA team could potentially now look at how it can remedy the major 333 backlog. In congressional testimony, an FAA representative hinted that such a move was coming. The UAS team for FAA is working to put non-exempt applications into buckets. Each bucket would be formed by a previous application that did receive an exemption. By using the buckets, the FAA believes it can approve batch applications if they fit into a previously formed bucket.

I would be lying if I said that buzz in the room this week created by the FAA’s announcement was deafening, or that there were phones and papers and keyboards going crazy with activity. The buzz was there, but it wasn’t as big as if the announcement had been about a change to the 333 exemption process, or if there had been a major “batch” of applicants that received an exemption. Someday, I hope our team gets to experience that situation. We are backlogged with stories and data and information that is incredibly relevant to the industry as it is. Imagine if there were hundreds and hundreds of UAS firms operating commercially or an announcement that makes such scenario a possibility does happen. I would be lying if I said activity amongst our team would not be crazy.