In May, 2014, the FAA began accepting petitions for exemptions to operate UAS commercially in civilian airspace. As of Sept.1, 2015, 1,407 of 2,650 petitions have been approved.
Congress mandated an August 2014 deadline for integration of small UAS into the National Airspace System and a September 2015 deadline for integration of all UAS — timeframes the FAA will miss with no clear indication as to when they will meet those obligations.
The flood of commercial exemption requests shows that a mature UAS commercial market is waiting to be unleashed. 84% of the approved companies are small businesses and California, Florida and Texas (in that order) had the most approvals indicating that most of the big companies are waiting for the FAA.
An analysis of the stated purpose of all the petitions showed them grouped as follows with the top item having the most approvals:
- Real estate
- General aerial surveying
- Film and TV
- Utility inspection
- Environmental uses
- Search and rescue
- Emergency management
The data shown above and analyzed in detail in the AUVSI report from which it came indicate that these initial waivers favor simple, low-risk operations that pose no real threat to the National Airspace. The data also shows by omission that beyond line-of-sight and nighttime operations such as those proposed by Amazon, DHL and others are critical to achieving the full economic benefit of UAS use but must await more collision-avoidance technology and a technological regulation framework from the FAA.