FAA Section 333 Exemption FAQ

FAA Section 333 Exemption FAQ

In 2014, the FAA made their first attempt to regulate the now booming commercial drone industry, through the introduction of a process known as the “Section 333 Exemption” program. The 333 exemption program requires commercial drone operators to register their unmanned aerial systems the same way manned aircraft are registered, and adhere to a set of rules governing the operation of their drones.

There has been some debate among aviation law experts on whether the FAA has the legal authority to regulate commercial drone activities.

The following FAQs cover a wide range of popular questions surrounding the FAA's Section 333 Exemption program.

Do I need a Section 333 Exemption from the FAA if I plan to operate a drone commercially?
What are the benefits of securing an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
How do I file a petition for an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
What are the operational requirements of the FAA’s Section 333 Exemption?
Do I need a pilot’s license to receive an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
How much will it cost to secure an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
How long will it take the FAA to process my Section 333 Exemption application?
What if I’m not approved for a Section 333 Exemption?
Will my Section 333 Exemption protect me from state or local laws covering UAV usage?
Do I need to register my drone with the FAA as part of the Section 333 Exemption application process?
What kind of commercial operations may I engage in after receiving a 333 exemption?
Why should I bother with a 333 exemption when the FAA is likely to change all the rules soon?
How long does my 333 exemption and COA last?
May I amend my petition to include new aircraft types?


Do I need a Section 333 Exemption from the FAA if I plan to operate a drone commercially?
The FAA maintains that any individual or company using an unmanned aerial system, in connection with any type of commercial work, will need the following:

  • Approved Section 333 Exemption
  • Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA)
  • UAV Registered with the FAA
  • Licensed Pilot to Conduct Operations
Note: There is some debate among aviation law experts concerning whether the FAA has the legal authority to regulate commercial drone activities.
What are the benefits of securing an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
Benefits of obtaining a 333 exemption may include:

  • Projection of credibility when marketing your commercial services to potential clients.
  • Early adoption of FAA guidelines may offer your business future benefits, such as a “grandfathered” status or faster completion of new registration processes once the FAA releases updated UAV regulations (Estimated to be completed as early as Spring 2016.)
  • Easier acceptance and access to lower rates when applying for drone and business liability insurance.
  • Ability to secure UAV service contracts that list a 333 exemption as a prerequisite.
How do I file a petition for an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
Some businesses use law firms to file their 333 exemption petitions. Others form their own and often review past petitions that were approved and use them as a basis for developing their own.

For more information, see How to File for an FAA Section 333 Exemption.
What are the operational requirements of the FAA’s Section 333 Exemption?
Notable FAA policies covering commercial drone use include:

  • Flights must be conducted below 400 feet. Section 333 Exemption holders maintain a blanket COA that allows them to conduct any flights below 200 feet that are in accordance with all FAA regulations. Some business flights between 200 and 400 feet may require an additional COA.
  • A licensed pilot (sport or recreational) must pilot drone when conducting flight operations.
  • The UAV must be operated during daylight hours.
  • Drone operators must be aware of FAA guidelines that affect all aircraft, such as temporary flight restrictions over stadiums or other events.
For a complete list of requirements, visit FAA Section 333 Operational Guidelines. In addition to FAA guidelines for commercial UAS operations, exercising common sense and adhering to basic Safe Drone Operation Guidelines should provide some level of protection for your company and the public.
Do I need a pilot’s license to receive an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
No, you do not need a pilot’s license to apply for, or receive the exemption. To meet the requirements of the exemption, you do need a licensed pilot flying the drone when conducting commercial flight operations.
How much will it cost to secure an FAA Section 333 Exemption?
When using a law firm or other professional service to conduct the 333 exemption application process, prices can range from $1,000 to over $5,000. The average attorney fee for this service is approximately $1,500.

If you apply for a 333 exemption without using a third-party service, there is no fee for submitting your petition. If your 333 petition is approved, you will need to register your unmanned aerial systems with the FAA, for which a $5 fee is required for each aircraft registration.
How long will it take the FAA to process my Section 333 Exemption application?
The FAA recommends 333 exemption applicants to submit their petition 120 days prior to any commercial drone operations. In our experience, petitions have been processed from between 2 and 4 months. In some cases, the petition process has taken over 4 months.
What if I’m not approved for a Section 333 Exemption?
If your 333 exemption petition is denied by the FAA, you may appeal the decision by sending a new petition to the same address within 60 days of receipt of the refusal. Your new petition should contain significant new facts that were not included in the original submission, or address any factual errors made by the FAA, or address any laws that the FAA did not correctly interpret.
Will my Section 333 Exemption protect me from state or local laws covering UAV usage?
No. Your Section 333 Exemption shows compliance with federal aviation policy for the commercial operation of UAVs. Many state and local governments are passing new drone laws at a frantic pace. You are responsible for being aware of any state or local laws that could affect your UAV operations.
Do I need to register my drone with the FAA as part of the Section 333 Exemption application process?
Section 333 Exemption holders need to register any drones that were approved for use in their petition. The FAA charges a $5 registration fee per unmanned aircraft. Read more about the UAV registration process on the FAA’s web page Aircraft Registration: Unmanned Aircraft (UA).
What kind of commercial operations may I engage in after receiving a 333 exemption?
Once you receive your 333 exemption, you are considered to be in compliance with federal requirements for commercial UAV operations. As long as you abide by all the flight operation guidelines set by the FAA, as well as federal, state and local laws, you can operate your drone for any commercial venture.
Why should I bother with a 333 exemption when the FAA is likely to change all the rules soon?
Securing a Section 333 Exemption puts your business at the forefront of regulation in a rapidly emerging industry. Exemption holders may project an added sense of credibility, and may enjoy some benefits when working with the FAA once new UAV policies are implemented.
May I amend my petition to include new aircraft types?
Yes, you may submit a petition to amend your approved list of drones.

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