FAA Surpasses 1,000 Commercial Drone Approvals

While we haven't seen evidence of the skies being blackened by drones just yet, the FAA says it has now granted more than 1,000 exemption approvals to commercial UAV operators for everything from film production to pipeline patrol to real estate photography.

As of today, the agency says it has issued 1,008 Section 333 exemptions, which allow commercial UAV operations under a strict set of guidelines, which includes having at least a private pilot on the ground at the controls of unmanned aircraft.

To address growing demand for Section 333 authorizations, the FAA recently streamlined the process to make it easier for operators to access the nation's airspace, meaning commercial drone sightings are likely to become a more common occurrence.

In March, the agency began issuing "blanket" Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) to Section 333 exemption holders. The COA allows flights anywhere in the country at or below 200 feet except in restricted airspace, close to airports, and other areas, such as major cities where the FAA prohibits UAV operations. Previously, an operator had to apply for and receive a COA for a particular block of airspace, a process that was taking as long as 60 days.

To expedite the processing of Section 333 petitions, in April the FAA began issuing "summary grants" for operations similar to those that it has already approved.

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