Do I Need A Pilot’s License or Airman Certificate to Apply for a FAA Section 333 Exemption?

In Drone Law Blog, Section 333 Petitions by Enrico SchaeferLeave a Comment

FAA Section 333
  1. FAA Order 8130.34C (PDF), Airworthiness Certification of Unmanned Aircraft SystemsWhat do you

A pilot’s license is NOT required to file a petition for a Section 333 exemption.

One of the most common questions we get asked by clients who want to fly a drone for business is whether or not you need a pilots license or Airman’s Certificate in order to apply for a section 333 exemptions or hold a section 333 exemption from the FAA.  You do not need  a pilots license or airman’s certificate to file a petition for a section 333 exam shouldn’t. The FAA will grant an exemption to anyone who is a United States citizen and otherwise is willing to fly under the limitations set forth by the FAA in the exemption grant, and the federal aviation regulations which will still apply to each flight.

Here is what the FAA says:

Is an FAA-issued pilot certificate required to operate a civil UASunder an experimental airworthiness certificate or a grant of exemption under Section 333?

If the aircraft is issued an airworthiness certificate, a pilot certificate is required.  FAA Order 8130.34C(PDF), Airworthiness Certification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Pilot certification requirements for petitions for exemption under Section 333 are evaluated on a case-by-case basis [note the FAA is granting exemptions as long as the exemption holder agrees that the PIC has an airman certificate]. While Section 333 grants the Secretary of Transportation flexibility with regard to airworthiness certification requirements, it does not grant the Secretary any flexibility with regard to airman certification standards as outlined in Sections 44703 and 44711 of Title 49 of the United States Code (49 USC). An FAA airman certificate is required to operate an aircraft in the National Airspace System.

For the reasons below, you should not be discouraged. Most of our Section 333 exemption clients DO NOT themselves have an airman’s certificate, and are hiring the PIC as independent contractors.

Here is why you should still apply for a section 333 exemption even if you don’t have a pilots license.

While the section 333 exemption holder does not have to have a pilots license, the exemption holder has to hire, typically on independent contractor basis, someone who does have a pilots license to operate the drone under the granted exemption.  Drone enthusiasts, aerial photographers and videographers and others who want to fly a drone for business are sometimes discouraged by the FAA’s requirement that the pilot in command (PIC) of the aircraft during each drone flight has to have and airman certificate, which typically means on minimum of a sport or recreational pilots license.

Here is why you should not be at all deterred from applying for section 333 exemption just because you don’t have a pilots license:

  • The FAA requires that you have at least two people participating in each drone flight, a pilot in command and a visual observer. This means you have to have two people on site anyway. You’re going to have to hire someone to participate in each flight no matter what. Just make that second person the pilot in command and make sure he has pilots license or Airman certificate.
  • Presumably, you want to obtain the a section 333 exemption from the FAA to fly your drone because you want to make money. This means your job as the business owner is to go out and get business, close sales and develop your business model. It would be highly inefficient for you to spend all your time flying the drone.
  • It is typically easy to find a drone pilot to hire an independent contractor business who meets the FAA’s requirements for the pilot in command. Our droll law team can help you identify several local resources who will likely be able to refer multiple pilots to you to act as the pilot in command for an hourly rate between 10 and $20 per hour.
  • Holding the section 333 granted by the FAA is where your real business value lies. Would you rather hold the section 333 exemption or be the pilot?
  • Sure you still get to fly your drone as a recreational hobbyist whenever you want.

Looking for more information on how to obtain a Sport or Recreational Level Pilot License?

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