Drone Pilots Eager to Fly Beyond the Restrictions of Part 107 | More than 2,000 Waivers Granted

- Isabella Gustave | UAV Coach

It’s been about two years since the FAA implemented Part 107, also known as the small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) rule, on August 29, 2016. Since then, the FAA has granted over 2,000 waivers to fly outside the requirements of Part 107, such as flying beyond the visual line of sight or at night.

AUVSI Study Reveals Surprising Trends Among Part 107 Waivers Granted

So who has applied for waivers successfully, and what were they for? The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) recently released an update to its analysis of waivers by the FAA, which includes findings on the most commonly requested waivers, types of operations authorized via waiver, and other unique findings.

Here are some key takeaways from the study:

  • Operators in all 50 states and Puerto Rico have used waivers for expanded operations.

  • The operators who received the most waivers reside in California, followed by Florida, Texas, Colorado, and Illinois.

  • Flying at night is the most common reason operators request a waiver, with nearly 92 percent of the waivers granting permission to operate UAS at night.

  • Small businesses are implementing UAS into their operations, with over 90 percent of the waivers granted to companies with annual revenues of less than $1 million.

  • First responders are embracing expanded UAS operations, with close to 200 having received waivers.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the data collected by AUVSI.

What are the most common FAA Part 107 waivers?

The majority of waivers were for operations at night, accounting for 92% of the waivers granted with all other waiver types each accounting for less than 5%. Waivers were seldomly approved for flights over people, operations without a visual observer, and operations from a moving vehicle.

In their report, AUVSI analyzed 1,960 waiver documents granted to more than 1,800 operators in the past two years. The FAA has granted waivers to:

  • Fly at night (1,800 waivers)

  • Fly in certain airspace (97 waivers)

  • Operate multiple UAS at the same time (41 waivers)

  • Operate beyond other imposed operational limits of Part 107 such as speed, distance from clouds or flight visibility (28 waivers)

  • Fly beyond visual line of sight (23 waivers)

  • Conduct flights over people (13 waivers)

  • Fly without a visual observer (13 waivers)

  • Operate UAS from a moving vehicle (5 waivers)

Image Credit: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI); Legend: Operating Limitations (b), (c) and (d) = 14 CFR §107.51 (b), (c) and (d) Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft (altitude above ground level or relative to a structure (b); flight visibility (c); distance from clouds (d)) Operating Limitations (a) = 14 CFR § 107.51 (a) for small unmanned aircraft (specifically groundspeed)

BVLOS operations, flights over people, operations without a visual observer, and operations from a moving vehicle accounted for 1% or less of all waivers granted, but this does not mean pilots have not expressed interest in these types of operations. Rather, it’s more likely that waivers to fly over people have a lower approval rate than requests to fly potentially safer missions like flying at night.

Who is most likely to request a FAA Part 107 waiver?

Based on the study conducted by AUVSI, which captured a total of 1,828 unique operators, the operators who applied for waivers breakdown as follows:

  • Over 58% are associated with some type of service-based organization

  • 26% are registered as a responsible individual without an associated company

  • 11% support emergency response organizations (such as fire or police departments)

  • Less than 5% work for government agencies, academic institutes, or UAS manufacturers

This is demonstrated in the barchart below.

Image Credit: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)

Where were the most FAA Part 107 waivers granted?

Using the FAA’s waivers granted database, AUVSI determined that the dispersion of waivers granted closely reflects the population density of the United States with large clusters in southern California, and in/around the cities of New York, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and Austin.

Image Credit: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)

The top ten states for number of waivers granted were California, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, and Virginia. This aligns closely with the distribution of Part 107 Certificate holders in the U.S.

Image Credit: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)

If you’d like to view more charts like this, head on over the AUVSI full report. Go ahead—you can totally geek out with their interactive data sets and deep dive into specific cities, types of business, types of waivers, and other data filters.

How will the waiver process change in the future?

The FAA has been working to improve the waiver process with the issue of airspace authorization maps