How to Apply for a Part 107 Waiver

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Having a Part 107 drone license has its perks, but it also has its disadvantages. On one hand, you have a nice license that you can show prospective clients, and it will probably help you sell your drone-based services. On the other hand, having the drone license means that you have to follow all the FAA regulations to the letter. This can restrict certain applications, such as when you have to shoot an aerial video at night or over a populated area.

Thankfully, the FAA has provisions to make such applications safe and legal. You can also make use of this legal flexibility by applying for a Part 107 waiver. When do you need to apply for a waiver? What is the process for applying for a waiver? Read on and find out!

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Under what conditions do I need to apply for a Part 107 waiver?

The Part 107 regulations clearly define when and where you are not allowed to fly a drone. However, a separate section of Part 107 also lists down all the conditions that may be waived subject to FAA approval. These conditions are as listed:

  1. Drone operations during night
  2. Operation of multiple drones by a single pilot
  3. Operating beyond line of sight
  4. Operating over a populated area
  5. Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft
  6. Operation over certain airspaces
  7. Operating beyond the prescribed operating limits for small UAVs

According to the FAA, they may grant approval for any of the above scenarios given that the applicant can demonstrate that he or she has the ability to fly safely under such conditions without endangering people or property on the ground or on the air.

Approval of the waiver can take up to 90 days, which will require drone pilots to plan ahead if a waiver will be needed for their business activities. The approval process will only be expedited for emergency response personnel who need to operate drones for disaster response and rescue operations.

Common scenarios where a Part 107 waiver may be needed could include video coverage of an event that will be held at night, or a concert or sports event which will involve flying a drone over thousands of people. The use of drones for security or surveillance may also require a Part 107 waiver, as you may need to monitor a particular area round the clock. Remote sensing applications, such as LiDAR surveys may also need to operate beyond daylight hours.

What waivers have the FAA granted?

As of September 2018, the FAA has granted more than 2,000 Part 107 waivers. About 92% of these waivers were for flying at night. The second most common reason for filing a Part 107 waiver was for flying at certain airspaces, which accounts for about 5% of the total waivers filed. There were also multiple requests to approve operation of multiple drones, flight beyond visual line of sight, flight without a visual observer, and flight over populated areas. Each of these reasons accounted for less than 1% of the total waivers approved, but it may be entirely possible that some of the requests related to these reasons were rejected.

Of the 1,828 operators who requested for a waiver, over 58% represented a service-based organization. Only 26% of the requests were from individuals with no associated organizations, while 11% were from emergency response organizations or personnel.

A few important conclusions can be deduced from the data. First, the number of requests show that there are too many possible drone services that are being hindered or slowed down by the currently implemented FAA regulations. The Part 107 regulations have only been in place for a little more than two years, yet the FAA has granted around 2000 waivers and have probably rejected a good number of waiver requests.

The data on the demographics of requesting parties also shows how quickly drone services have become commercialized. It appears that commercial drone applications have evolved beyond small-scale services being offered by individuals. More and more organizations are embracing drone technology and drone-based services.

How do I apply for a Part 107 waiver?

Before applying for a Part 107 waiver, it is important for you to determine the specific regulations that you need to have waived and to apply only for those regulations. With this you can proceed with the waiver application via the FAA’s, DroneZone Portal.

For any application, you need to have an Operation Title (a descriptive title of your intended operation), a Responsible Party, and a Remote Pilot. The Responsible Party does not necessarily need to be the drone pilot or have a drone license. Most applicants cite an organization representative, such as the CEO or a senior member, as the Responsible Party. Obviously, the Remote Pilot will be the person operating the drone and must have a valid drone license.

Take note that you can either apply for an operational request or for a controlled airspace request. Operational requests are for applications that are not airspace-related, such as flying at night or over a populated area. If you wish to fly over a controlled airspace (Class B, C, D or near-surface E), then you can either apply for an airspace authorization or an airspace waiver. Airspace authorizations are granted for drone flight in the controlled airspace of a specific location, and the process is usually faster and more direct. On the other hand, an airspace waiver is granted to a drone pilot who can exhibit an ability to operate safely in any controlled airspace without air traffic control (ATC) authorization.

When applying for an operational waiver, you will be required to fill up the Waiver Safety Explanation section where you will describe in detail the proposed operations, the risks associated with the operations, and the steps you will take to mitigate those risks.

1. Description of Proposed Operation

The section that requires the “Description of Proposed Operation” needs to be as detailed as possible. In this section, you need to provide details of where you will fly your drone. The specifics should include the longitude and latitude of the location, a detailed map, a description of the population density, the presence of any controlled airspace within 5 miles of the area, and how high you intend to fly your drone.

You will also need to provide technical details on the drone that you will be using. This includes the model of your drone, its maximum flight time, its maximum speed and range, its weight and dimensions (including any payload), and any provisions for anti-collision or retrieval.

Finally, you need to provide details on the pilot who will operate the drone. This includes details on the pilot’s level of experience, any training that the pilot has taken or will take, and how many pilots will be operating the drone under the waiver.

2. Description of Operational Risks and Mitigation

In this section, you will be asked to provide in as much detail as possible how you intend to address the risks associated with your proposed drone operations. You will need to show the ability to anticipate unfavorable circumstances and come up with plans should these circumstances arise. You will also be asked to provide pre-emptive measures that you will take to ensure that your proposed drone operation will proceed without problems.

Depending on the Part 107 regulation that you are asking to be waived, you may need to provide different sets of mitigating measures. The FAA has helpfully provided several guide questions for each regulation that they recommend you answer in the waiver application form. For instance, you will need to address how you can maintain a visual line of sight with your drone if you will be flying at night. Should you intend to fly your drone over a populate area, you will need to provide data that asserts that your drone cannot cause serious injury to a human should an accident occur.

The things you can write in your waiver application form is as varied as the scenarios for which you may apply for a waiver, so there really is no specific detail that we can recommend. If in doubt, it is best to follow the FAA’s guide questions and to be as detailed as possible.

After filing the application, you will have to wait for a maximum of 90 days. The FAA states that they “will strive to review and issue decisions on waiver and authorization requests within 90 days”, so there is a small chance that you will receive your approval sooner. However, experience has showed that airspace authorization requests get processed faster and have better chances of being approved. If you are applying for a Part 107 operational waiver, then we suggest that you anticipate waiting for the full 90 days. Operational requests also get turned down more often.

Tips on getting your Part 107 waiver request approved

There’s no telling how many FAA personnel your waiver request has to go through, or their specific criteria for granting your request. There is a lot of time and effort involved in filing a request, so it really pays to give your best effort during application. Below are just some of the measures you can take to increase the chances of your waiver request being approved.

  1. Know the regulations – Being a licensed drone operator, you are expected to be knowledgeable on the Part 107 regulations. This means that you should know exactly which regulations you are asking to be waived. Not being able to cite all relevant regulations is a sure way to have your request rejected, while citing too many regulations will make your request unnecessarily complicated.
  2. Anticipate and plan ahead – The ability to anticipate potential problems exhibits your skill as a drone pilot and your familiarity with your specific drone. This should show in your waiver application form and is something that the FAA looks for. In coming up with mitigating measures, it also pays to be as detailed as possible. Does your drone have a GPS tracker in case of a runaway? Does it have a Return to Home in case it loses communication with your controller? These are details that you need to provide in the application form
  3. Be realistic – In coming up with mitigating measures, make sure that you can follow through with your proposals. Installing lights on your drone may be sufficient to provide visibility during nighttime but flying at a range of 2 miles or more may render your lights ineffective. In such cases, you might have to test your mitigating measures before you come up with your proposal.
  4. Avoid cookie cutter responses – The FAA has received thousands of these waiver requests, and they can likely tell a copy-paste response when they see one. Make sure that the supporting text of your application is specific to your scenario if you want to increase the chances of your request being approved.
  5. Be responsive – There are cases when the FAA may ask for additional information through the course of the approval process. Make sure that you are available to provide this information to expedite the approval of your request.

Under what grounds will my waiver be disapproved?

A lack of detail in the waiver request is the number one reason for requests not being approved. Many requests do not fully describe the proposed drone operations, or do not provide enough details on their proposed safety measures. Not responding to requests for additional information is another common reason for disapproving a waiver request.

Whatever the case may be, the FAA will notify you of the disapproval of your waiver request and the associated reasons. You may reapply for a new waiver request anytime.

Final thoughts

Based on the number of waiver applications that the FAA has received since the inception of the Part 107 regulations, it is clear that the restrictions put in place by Part 107 have been somewhat holding back the potential of the commercial drone industry. Although there is a waiver provision in place, the long waiting time for approval can be frustrating for organizations that offer drone services. Having to wait for 90 days for a waiver results in a lack of business flexibility and missing out on a lot of potential gigs.

According to the FAA, they have been taking steps to streamline the process and grant approvals faster. They have already released UAS Facility Maps that have effectively fast-tracked requests for airspace authorization. Still, a large portion of Part 107 waiver requests have to be reviewed by human approvers, making the process inherently slower.

Our best hope lies in the improvement of drone technology which may result in more relaxed regulations. Right now, newly released drones have much better collision detection technology which should result in fewer accidents. Perhaps drones with better tracking and communications technology will be developed in the future and these can pave the way for beyond visual line of sight operations.

The rate of improvement in drone technology has become very fast in the last couple of years, and we are hoping that legislation can keep up and similarly evolve. If you have ideas on how to improve the process for waiver approval or have an experience with waiver requests that you’d like to share, then just sound off below.