3D Robotics

Database of FAA drone exemptions


From the excellent Center of the Study of the Drone, a searchable spreadsheet with all the current FAA Section 333 exemptions for commercial use:

By Arthur Holland Michel and Dan Gettinger

Until the Federal Aviation Administration implements comprehensive regulations for the use of unmanned aircraft within the U.S. sometime in 2016, only those companies in possession of a Section 333 exemption are permitted to operate drones commercially. The FAA began issuing 333 exemptions in September of 2014 as a stopgap measure to allow certain low-risk commercial drone operations while the industry waits for the full regulations. (All non-exempted, non-recreational drone operations are currently illegal). In order to receive an exemption, companies and individuals must describe, among other details, exactly what kind of drone they will be using and how they will be using it. Here, we have compiled data from all the Section 333 exemptions to date. This database, which includes, in addition to this information, the location of the exempted enterprise, the category of the application, and a description of the intended drone use, will be updated regularly as the FAA continues to issue new exemptions. The database allows you to track the commercial drone industry during this interim period. It affords us a view of the contours of commercial drone proliferation in its infancy, and provides a preview of what the industry will look like once those regulations are finally implemented.

Download (PDF, 495KB)

We found that while many exempted individuals and companies will be working in a single field like agriculture or film, a large number of the exemptions went to companies that seek to provide aerial imagery and services to a range of industries. In the agriculture category for example, a little under half of the companies that received an exemption intend to use drones specifically for farming while the rest of the companies intend to also work in other industries. In order to accurately account for the number of companies working in each industry or field, we have devised our own system of categories in which one exemption can count under more than one type of drone application.

When we initially wrote about the FAA’s exemptions in April, only one hundred companies were permitted to fly drones commercially. Today, there are over 700 companies and that number is rising by as many as 50 new exemptions per week. Since April, we’ve seen a relatively consistent spread of companies per industry as well as a growth in exemptions for some fields like real estate. As the number of exempted companies continues to increase, we expect to see drones used in a growing number of ways and industries.

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  • May want to recheck the percentage numbers in the database graph. ;-)

  • Moderator

    I think he's referring to the fact that someone applying for an exemption with an Inspire or Solo is going to be doing a different kind of "aerial photography" than someone applying for an exemption with an Aero-M or eBee that is also applying for "aerial photography". 

  • But I get your point I assume you are referring to quads with redundancy like x8 with 2 gps etc being inherently safer than a DJI Phantom.

  • I assume the regulations are about safety Gary not so much about how good a business person you are. If you hope to survey 10,000 hectares with a Phantom your business will fail. Not the governments job decide what business will fail just if you are a danger.

  • Moderator

    IMHO the type of airframe being used is way more important than what folks say they are going to do. Its the limiting factors in one. You are not going to survey 10,000 hectares with a Phantom. Getting data is easy these days, displaying it not so much.

  • One thing people need to realize is just because you have received an exemption  you MUST satisfy all the requirements in the exemption.  One thing many fail to realize is that you are still obligated to hold a pilots licence, the 333 exemption is for certain parts of the FAR's.  

  • Yes, "Every partitioning scheme has its problems" and this situation is a great example. Would have been helpful if the FAA authors had designed a controlled vocabulary of terms (such as industry, field, market, operation, mission, application, use, ... ), each term with a definition to help limit the scope of intended meaning. Better yet, they could have avoided local invention by themselves and the petitioners by referencing some existing set of terms from a notable source.

    Not surprising that many petitioners have declared their intentions based in part on the technical capability of their UAS, most of which include some kind of camera payload item.

    On Wikipedia, notability is a test used by editors to decide whether a given topic warrants its own article. Information on Wikipedia must be verifia…
  • We've done the same analysis through end of June.  We find these numbers change daily as the FAA adds and subtracts grants.  When we categorized each petitioner’s operation / mission we noted as Bard did that many applicants listed more than one.  We also find the data somewhat suspect since it was 'self-declared' (there wasn’t a list to choose from). Looking further into the data we find most petitioners are very small companies and we suspect their actual practice is going to be wherever they can get business.  Some had declared their operation / mission as ag, but when we researched the company we couldn't find any prior work or connection in the ag industry but had just done a 'copy and past' from a previous approved one.  

    I think its import to say our industry taxonomy is confusing.  There seems to be growing indifference about acurately describing the difference between an application vs. an operation / mission (FAA term) vs. an industry vs. a market segment. For simplification we combine Film/Photo and Real Estate because it's basically the same application. When you look at the data that way its clear Film/Photo/Video is at least 1.7 times larger than other markets not “In the agriculture category for example, a little under half of the companies that received an exemption intend to use drones specifically for farming..” as Bard says.



  • Moderator

    We have done the same at sUAS News and included the actual N numbers issued, http://www.suasnews.com/faa-drone-333-exemption-holders/

    DJI currently has more than 40% of the 333 market by N registrations, but that is changing by the minute.

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