The FAA tweeted news this morning that it has granted 2 more Section 333 exemptions for the use of drones in agriculture and real estate. One exemption was granted to a realtor in Arizona, the second to Advanced Aviation Solutions in Spokane, Washington, to conduct “precision agriculture” through photogrammetry and crop scouting. The former exemption – the Arizona realtor – might be of broader interest because the proposal was to operate a popular DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quad-copter
to conduct aerial videography and cinematography to enhance academic community awareness for those individuals and companies unfamiliar with the geographical layout of the metro Tucson area and augment real estate listing videos.
From there, the document consists of 26 pages of mind-numbing bureaucrat-speak and absurdities that would have given Vaclav Havel a chuckle. For example, the petitioner asked for relief from the requirement of having a private or commercial pilot’s license. The FAA’s response:
Regarding the petitioner’s requested relief from 14 CFR 61.113(a) and (b), Private pilot privileges and limitations, the petitioner requested regulatory relief to operate his UAS without an FAA-certificated pilot. In support of his request, the petitioner states that “while helpful, a pilot license will not ensure remote control piloting skills.” However, the FAA does not possess the authority to exempt the petitioner from the statutory requirement to hold an airman certificate, as prescribed in 49 USC § 44711 [Ed. – prohibiting a person from serving “in any capacity as an airman . . . without an airman certificate authorizing the airman to serve in the capacity for which the certificate was issued….”]. Although Section 333 provides limited statutory flexibility relative to 49 USC § 44704 for the purposes of airworthiness certification, it does not provide similar flexibility relative to other sections of Title 49.
So, apparently the FAA has discretion to disregard section 44711 if you’re a hobbyist, but not if you’re a commercial operator. Yes, we know about the hobbyist exception under FMRA, but this takes statutory construction to an absurd level. The FAA doesn’t stop there:
Unlike operations pursuant to public COAs, the FAA is also requiring a pilot certificate for UAS operations for two reasons, the first of which is to satisfy the statutory requirements as stated above. The second is because pilots holding an FAA issued private or commercial pilot certificate are subject to the security screening by the Department of Homeland Security that certificated airmen undergo. As previously determined by the Secretary of Transportation, the requirement to have an airman certificate ameliorates security concerns over civil UAS operations conducted in accordance with Section 333.
Um, why not simply require a background check? Not that we think it should be necessary, but we trust non-pilots with Global Entry cards. The background check requirements are at least as rigorous. The FAA then considers the objections of the Airline Pilots Association [We didn’t see that coming! – Ed.], but finds that a commercial pilot’s license should not be necessary. Various commenters have pointed to numerous other absurdities, and we do not have time to explore them all in detail. But most absurd of all is the amount of resources that has gone into drafting, submitting, and reviewing one petition from an individual who wishes to operate his Phantom 2 for commercial purposes. This is not only an absurd way to go about things; it is horribly wasteful and raises impossible barriers to entry for many thousands of potential entrepreneurs. There has got to be a better way.