13 days of FAA’s UAS exemption list impressive

By Luke Geiver | January 14, 2016

A recent review of the FAA’s long list—its nearly 3,000—of 333 exemption holders reminds us that in the next few years nearly every plausible end-user of UAS will own or contract for the services of a UAS. At least if the list of exemption holders is any indication of things to come. If you haven’t looked at the list of 333 exempt companies or individuals in existence today, take a quick look. The list is impressive and telling of where the industry is today and where it could be headed.

To provide a snapshot of the exemptions from just this year, I looked at the first thirteen days in January. There were 176 companies or individuals granted the ability to operate UAS commercially under the pre-established guidelines created by the FAA. Roughly 28 percent of the 2016 exemptions were to individuals, with the remaining number given to companies of various sizes and scopes. Some are for UAS companies, some are for end-users wanting to add UAS to their operations.

Of the 176 exemptions, only (approximately) 9 percent didn’t earn the exemption specifically for the purposes of capturing aerial imagery or video. The main categories of use still remain very similar to what we have seen in the past 1.5 years and include: aerial imagery, agriculture, surveying, mapping, infrastructure, environmental work and real estate. Any image related product developer or maker, whether it is a gimbal manufacturer or a lens repair service or a software developer, should be drooling at the 333 list.

For those of us that check in on the list frequently, there were some new exemption use descriptions that were a bit out of the norm.

-Personal fine arts project

-Environmental studies

-Hazard mitigation in Federal Crop Management programs

-To increase public knowledge


-Wind farms (this isn’t new, but just sounds like such a great use of UAVs)

-Sporting event marketing

-Railroad inspections

-Evidentiary photography

-Thermal info