In Drone Law Blog, Section 333 Petitions by Enrico Schaefer2 Comments

FAA Section 333 Exemption

Drone Law Experts: Congratulations! You’ve received you Section 333 Exemption from the FAA, you’re ready to fly for commercial purposes, and you now need to make sure you comply with the FAA’s rules and the exemption you received.

  1. You Must Register Each Aircraft / UAV with the FAA.
  2. The 333 Exemption Contains Numerous Limitations.
  3. You Must Fly Your Drone Safely.
  4. Your Pilot In Command (PIC) must have a Pilots License.
  5. Stay Clear of Airports When Flying Your Drone.

Today on “Five Things You Need to Know”, we are going to be talking about how to comply with your FAA Section 333 Exemption so that you not only “fly the Exemption” but you “comply with the Exemption.” You also have to comply with the FAA’s other UAV regulations concerning safe flight.

You Must Register Each Aircraft / UAV with the FAA

Number 1: You will be limited to the aircraft you identified with you Section 333 Petition and registered with the FAA. So you are going to need to reserve an “N” number for your aircraft, you’re going to have to register that aircraft with the FAA and the UAS must be marked with the U.S. Nationality and Registration Numbers in accordance with 14 C.F.R. Part 45. So you are going to have to be able to identify your aircraft so that if something bad happens with that aircraft, the FAA can identify who that aircraft belongs to.

The 333 Exemption Contains Numerous Limitations

Number 2: There are speed, altitude and other limitations that you are going to have to comply with. So, for instance, you can’t go faster than 100 mph or more than 400 feet above the ground level. You also need to keep line of sight on your aircraft. You can’t fly beyond line of sight and you need to have a visual observer as part of your flight operations. These are the types of things that are going to keep you safe under your Exemption. You need to fly your UAS or UAV within the rules in order to make sure that you don’t get fined by the FAA for violating the exemption or violating the other regulations dealing with flight.

You Must Fly Your Drone Safely

Number 3: You must adhere to your operating and maintenance documents that you submitted as part of your Section 333 Exemption. Those documents must be available during the flight. What are those documents? Well, the operations documents that you submitted are going to tell the FAA how you are going to conduct a safe flight, what your emergency procedures are, what your other procedures are that will ensure that your meeting the requirements of the Exemption and the other aviation regulations that apply. So the maintenance documents are going to show that your vehicle or UAV is, in fact, safe and that you are maintaining it correctly and all these documents all have to be available to any FAA representative who may show up during your flight.

Your Pilot In Command (PIC) must have a Pilots License

Number 4: The PIC who is the piloting command must hold at least a sport pilots license or a recreational license. For a sport license, it is at least 20 hours of flight time and other flight training requirements. So just because you can fly a drone doesn’t mean ‘YOU CAN FLY A DRONE’. You have to actually have a pilot’s license at this point in order for the FAA to allow you to fly. The good news is that finding someone with a sport or rec license who also has a lot of experience flying drones is pretty easy and pretty inexpensive. There are a lot of pilots out there and many of the young ones are already flying drones and are available to help you get your commercial business off the ground once you get your Exemption in place.

Stay Clear of Airports When Flying Your Drone

Number 5: You can’t fly within FIVE miles of an airport unless you have a letter agreement with the airport management or you have a certificate of authorization, a COA, which allows that flight. This poses particular issues for anyone who is operating a drone to do, for instance, real estate photography and their doing it in a downtown area that is within five miles of an airport. You can’t just simply FLY that flight because you got an exemption. There are a lot of requirements in there that are going to be challenges for you to make sure you fly competently and legally within the regulations. There are other limitations such as not flying within 500 feet of someone who is not part of your flight. That is going to present a challenge for events, for real estate, for downtown filming when you are in a downtown area that would take your flight over people who aren’t part of your flight operations, which is currently not allowed by the standard exemptions being provided by the FAA.

Those are the five things you need to know for today. We will see you next time.


  1. howaboutthisone

    So what can happen if I don’t obtain a Section 333 exemption for flying my drone? Are there stiff penalties for not obtaining a Section 333 exemption?

    1. Enrico Schaefer

      Yes. With drone use, comes responsibility. An enforcement action is very possible. The FAA has jurisdiction over the NAS (National Airspace System). When you fly a manned or unmanned vehicle in the NAS, you arguably come under the FAA’s jurisdiction. The FAA can issue a fine of $10,000 per violation. Even if you get your 333 Exemption, failing to adhere to the exemption or other federal aviation regulation can result in a similar fine from the FAA. Fines can be levied against the operator of the drone, or the customer / client who is paying the drone operator to conduct the flight.

      FAA enforcement personnel take compliance and enforcement action for the purpose of preventing future actions that would violate the regulations (for example, immediate corrective action after counseling or a letter of correction; cease and desist orders; injunctions). The FAA also takes enforcement actions for remedial purposes (for example, administrative remedial training; immediate corrective action and comprehensive fixes under the voluntary disclosure reporting programs; certificate suspension pending demonstration of qualifications; or revocation for lack of qualification or competency). The FAA is motivated to enforce its regulations in part to deter future violations by the subject of the enforcement action and those similarly situated (for example, punitive certificate actions or civil penalties). See more about FAA enforcement actions here.

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