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How can denial of an FAA exemption be a good thing?

We normally think of getting a denial as a bad thing, but a recent FAA denial of an exemption petition is great news for the drone industry. Here’s why:

One of the barriers to automated drone operations without physical human presence was implementation of current FAA rules requiring a drone pilot (a.k.a., a Remote Pilot In Command – RPIC) to perform a preflight inspection of the drone and verify the drone is safe for flight. These rules are defined by 14 CFR Part 107 (“Part 107”) in § 107.15 and § 107.49.

Previous FAA interpretation of the rules required a Part 107 pilot to be physically present with the drone to perform the preflight inspection -- so automated, completely remote operation through a full operation was effectively ruled out. Part 107 included a provision for waiving some of its rules under certain conditions, but §§ 107.15 and 107.49 are not included in the waivable rules.

Not all was lost, however. In the world of FAA regulation, it is possible to receive exemption from rules if you petition the FAA and provide a well-constructed case that your system and operations provide an equivalent level of safety as the current rules. It can be a long process, but the payoff can be there for those who put in the resources and time. For this kind of autonomy, a few trailblazers succeeded in the exemption path and received exemptions from the §§ 107.15 and 107.49 rules, including American Robotics and BNSF.

Recently, Percepto, a drone-in-a-box OEM, submitted an exemption petition that followed in the footsteps of the early trailblazers. The surprising outcome was that the exemption petition was denied, which is where the story turns a denial into a good thing…

In the denial, the FAA stated:

“the FAA has determined that it is not necessary for Percepto to receive an exemption from 14 CFR §§ 107.15 and 107.49 because they are already meeting the requirements of §§ 107.15 and 107.49”


“The FAA has also determined that with similar procedures for virtual preflight, others could also comply with these provisions without regulatory relief.” (emphasis mine)

Finally, the FAA gave us a preview of how they expect to communicate the requirements for virtual preflight:

“The FAA will update its AC [Advisory Circular AC 107.2] to include additional information to help operators comply with §§ 107.15 and 107.49 with a virtual preflight inspection, if they so choose.”

The outcomes are:

  1. Acknowledgement by the FAA that there is a recipe allowing virtual preflight inspection to meet the Part 107 preflight inspection requirements (contact us at more information)

  2. A commitment by the FAA to provide the recipe in a future update of its Part 107 Advisory Circular

These are important strides for drone operations – being able to launch, carry out tasks, and land drones without requiring crew on-site will unlock cost-effective drone solutions across many industries. We’re excited about this development and congratulate the FAA and the exemption trailblazers for their efforts that ultimately turned a denial into a great forward step!

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