Yes, you read that correctly. The FAA got massively trolled by Peter Sachs, who applied for and received a Section 333 Exemption to commercially operate a PowerUp 3.0 Smart Phone-controlled paper airplane. From the article by John Goglia:
His exemption allows him to “conduct aerial photography and videography” with the powered paper airplane so long as he meets dozens of conditions specified in the exemption and attached certificate of authorization. I asked the FAA for comment on whether granting the exemption indicates that the FAA considers a powered paper airplane an unmanned aircraft system, or UAS. An FAA spokesperson responded that “Mr. Sachs submitted a valid petition for exemption, and we granted the requested relief.”
And while Mr. Sachs has a helicopter pilot’s license, he is not current, which means that, in order to operate his paper airplane, he will need to spend thousands of dollars to become current or to hire a pilot.
You can read the exemption and application, here.
This brings to mind the ruling of the law judge in the Pirker case, wherein he found that the FAA’s position, vis a vis regulation of model aircraft, would lead to the “risible argument that a flight in the air of, e.g., a paper aircraft, or a toy balsa wood glider, could subject the ‘operator’ to the regulatory provisions of [14 C.F.R. part 91 and] Section 91.13(a).” As we know, an appellate panel at the NTSB rejected that notion.
Well, now we know.
The FAA is touting its “summary grant” process that allowed to issue 30, simultaneous Section 333 Exemptions, last week. In other words, you are eligible for a summary grant if your petition looks sufficiently similar to a previously granted petition:
Although the FAA still reviews each Section 333 petition individually, the agency can issue a summary grant when it finds it has already granted a previous exemption similar to the new request. Summary grants are far more efficient because they don’t need to repeat the analysis performed for the original exemption on which they are based. Summary grants are a tool the FAA can use in all exemption areas, not just UAS.
The FAA’s experience in reviewing the Section 333 petitions shows they generally fall into two categories: film/television production and aerial data collection. Most exemptions in these categories will likely be handled through the summary grant process. For unique requests, the agency will still publish the petition in the Federal Register for public comment and will conduct a detailed analysis.
In other news:
- The agency now allows operations under these exemptions by people who hold a recreational or sport pilot certificate. Previously, Section 333 operators were required to have at least a private pilot certificate. The newly added certificates are easier to obtain, and therefore less costly, than a private pilot certificate.
- A third class medical certificate is no longer required. Now, a Section 333 operator only needs a valid driver’s license to satisfy the medical requirement. This change is consistent with the agency’s approach for sport pilot certificate holders, who may fly light sport aircraft with a driver’s license and no FAA medical certificate.