The Federal Aviation Administration has established an interim policy to speed up airspace authorizations for certain commercial unmanned aircraft (UAS) operators who obtain Section 333 exemptions. The new policy helps bridge the gap between the past process, which evaluated every UAS operation individually, and future operations after we publish a final version of the proposed small UAS rule.

Under the new policy, the FAA will grant a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator with a Section 333 exemption for aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds, operate during daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions, operate within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports:

  • 5 nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower; or
  • 3 NM from an airport with a published instrument flight procedure, but not an operational tower; or
  • 2 NM from an airport without a published instrument flight procedure or an operational tower; or
  • 2  NM from a heliport with a published instrument flight procedure

The “blanket” 200-foot COA allows flights anywhere in the country except restricted airspace and other areas, such as major cities, where the FAA prohibits UAS operations. Previously, an operator had to apply for and receive a COA for a particular block of airspace, a process that can take 60 days. The agency expects the new policy will allow companies and individuals who want to use UAS within these limitations to start flying much more quickly than before.

Section 333 exemption holders will automatically receive a “blanket” 200 foot COA. For new exemption holders, the FAA will issue a COA at the time the exemption is approved. Anyone who wants to fly outside the blanket parameters must obtain a separate COA specific to the airspace required for that operation.

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are inherently different from manned aircraft. Introducing UAS into the nation’s airspace is challenging for both the FAA and aviation community, because the U.S. has the busiest, most complex airspace in the world. The FAA is taking an incremental approach to safe UAS integration.

What Can I Do with my Model Aircraft?

UAS come in a variety of shapes and sizes and serve diverse purposes. Regardless of size, the responsibility to fly safely applies equally to manned and unmanned aircraft operations. The FAA is partnering with several industry associations to promote safe and responsible use of unmanned aircraft. Read more about the Know Before You Fly educational campaign.