The first question most people seem to have about getting a Section 333 Exemption, is “do I need a pilot’s license to get a Section 333 Exemption?” This is an especially good question for people that want to use their drone for things like photography, real estate surveillance, agriculture, and filmmaking, because these folks typically don’t have a pilot’s license and consequently, they don’t want to go spend $14,000 on a private pilot’s license just to operate their drone commercially. The answer to the question, however, is that you DO NOT need a pilot certificate in order to OBTAIN a Section 333 Exemption from the FAA. Nonetheless, the FAA requires that the person operating a drone under your Section 333 Exemption have at the bare minimum a Sport Pilot Certificate and a valid U.S. Driver’s License. This means that if you don’t have a pilot’s license, you can still get your Section 333 Exemption and then hire someone with a Sport Pilot Certificate to operate your drone for you. The following will outline your options if you don’t have a pilot’s license but still want to get a Section 333 Exemption for your drone operation.
First, you have to look at the economic and utilitarian side of going out and getting a pilot’s license. Do you have three to five months that you can dedicate to studying course material, taking lessons, and learning a new skill? Do you have the funds to get the license? Would having your license be useful to you in your personal life or business (other than for operating your drone)? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” you may want to carefully consider getting a pilot’s certificate for your Section 333 Exemption. And remember, you don’t have to have your pilot’s certificate at the time you send your Section 333 Petition to the FAA. Rather, you just have to have the certificate by the time you go out to operate your UAV as pilot-in-command.
So, if you decide that you DO want to get your pilot’s certificate, what is the most cost effective and efficient way to go about it for Section 333 purposes? There is an old wives’ tale out there that getting a Lighter-Than-Air Certificate (i.e. blimps and hot-air-balloons) is the fastest and most cost effective way of getting a certificate for Section 333 purposes. The ideology behind this theory is supported by the fact that a Sport Pilot, Lighter-Than-Air, Balloon, Certificate only requires 7 hours of training. While in some worlds this theory could be true, you will likely find that it is more difficult to actually locate a facility that can give out these types of certificates, let alone cheaply and quickly.
Nonetheless, if all you want to do is be legal while operating your drone and you are afraid that you won’t be able to get a FAA Medical Certificate, your best route is to get a Sport Pilot Certificate. The Sport Pilot Certificate for airplanes and helicopters requires a minimum of 20 training hours. The Sport Pilot rule allows a pilot to fly light-sport aircraft without the need for an FAA medical certificate. However, a sport pilot must hold at least a current and valid U.S. driver’s license in order to exercise this privilege. The caveat to obtaining a Sport Pilot Certificate is that there are a lot of restrictions placed upon operators with these certificates. In that, airmen with a Sport Pilot Certificate cannot go into certain airspaces, cannot fly at night, cannot carry more than one passenger, go faster than 87 knots, etc.
If you have a little more time to devote to training and a little more money to throw at the situation, you may be interested in obtaining a Private Pilot Certificate. The minimum number of training/solo hours required for this certificate is 40 hours and you will have to be able to pass the FAA Third Class Medical exam. While this process of obtaining this certificate is definitely more involved, there are significantly less restrictions placed upon you than those with a Sport Pilot Certificate. You can take passengers, fly into complex airspaces, go day or night, etc. Essentially, your wings aren’t clipped when you have a Private Pilot Certificate.
But what if you don’t have any desire in obtaining a pilot’s license but you still want to fly your drone for commercial purposes? As mentioned above, the best route for you is to either hire someone with a Sport Pilot Certificate or find a bored pilot down at your local airport to come fly for you. Some pilots may even be willing to fly your drone for free – just to have the thrill of flying a cool drone! But remember, you can still change your mind and decide to get your pilot’s license after getting your Section 333 Exemption, thus allowing you to operate your drone.
If you have any questions about this murky area of the Section 333 Exemption process, feel free to call a drone attorney at The Ison Law Firm. We can walk you through the process and help you develop a strategy that is best for you and your operation. We are standing by to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.