We continue our Section 333 Insights series, we last spoke with Industrial Aerobotics, LLC, by this time getting Section 333 Insights from VSG Unmanned. They were approved for their Section 333 exemption on March 24th so we reached out to learn more about their experience.
Q. You filed your Section 333 exemption on August 4th of 2014, did the approval process go forward as you expected?
It took a bit longer than we anticipated. I think everyone was surprised with the number of applicants and the FAA was just not manned appropriately to deal with the huge influx of petition applications. The hardest part was waiting after we finished the Q & A portion with the FAA in November. We kept expecting to hear something back quickly but as you can see, it took a while after that for ours to go through.
The most discouraging part was when we started seeing applicants get approved who had applied months after our submission. In the end, it took several phone calls and emails to try to ascertain where ours was in the process. By the time we started making headway in figuring out where our petition was in the process, the exemption approval came through.
Q. Would you have any recommendations to others who are just beginning the exemption process?
Don’t expect a quick turnaround. Even with better processes in place to deal with the many exemption requests, I don’t foresee the FAA issuing blanket approvals anytime soon. I have heard that they are looking at requests similar to those already approved to make the selection process more streamlined so if new applicants want to look at what is already out there and align your request with those who have already been approved, you probably stand a greater chance of getting approval quickly.
We added some complexity to ours by requesting approval for three different aircraft, both fixed wing and multirotor so I think that probably added some time to the length of the approval process.
Q. Do you have any advice for the FAA around the process?
I think the FAA is doing what they can with the resources they have been given. The new approach seems to be getting more and more approvals out weekly.
Q. Your exemption paperwork notes that: “The exemption would allow the petitioner to operate an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to collect high quality, actionable data for use by agronomists, crop consultants, and forestry professionals.”. Does this open up new businesses for you?
We have been working with professionals in the agriculture and forestry industry for almost two years to identify what the real requirements are that could be solved with unmanned systems. I wouldn’t say that this opens up new business for us, but rather widens our ability to better serve these markets. There has been a lot of talk around the impact drones will have in agriculture but there are very few groups out there who really understand what it will take to make an impact and demonstrate enough value to farmers to make them spend money of this type of service. It certainly took us a while to develop even the most basic of value-added product but those products are growing every day and this exemption will only fuel that growth.
Q. We noted in the exemption that you are going to use the following drones: “C-Astral: Bramor gEO, Volt Aerial Robotics: Octane, and Aeromao: AeroMapper 300″, why were these the right ones for you?
We are not new to the world of unmanned aviation. Our average operator has over 4,000 flight hours on various unmanned systems in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace. When choosing platforms we looked for a professional grade system that would get the job done at an affordable price. Finding the minimum viable product that could meet our requirements was key to keeping capital costs low. As we progress in developing our product offerings, our system requirements will evolve and we will look to platforms that offer those capabilities. We tend to be technology/platform agnostic; using the system that best meets our requirements with the optimal balance of cost and capability. It is important to note that in the long term, the marketplace will delineate the professional UAS operator from the hobbyist trying to earn extra cash. In the short term, choice of system is a useful way to help customers differentiate the two.
Q. Were there any questions we should have asked you?
With more and more companies being granted these exemptions, we believe the US will finally be able to start catching up with much of the rest of the world in figuring out just how impactful the technology can be to various markets. Although it increases the competition for potential customers, in the long run, a faster approval process is necessary to get the industry on the right footing and this will only help us evolve to better determine system requirements and product deliverables. It’s a big win for both the unmanned tech industry as well as the many different markets that will be served by the technology.