In this article, I want to share some information about Part 107 waivers, particularly how to apply for a waiver for 107.39 Operation over people.
In our airspace authorization guide, we wrote about how it’s confusing that the FAA uses the same online form for two very different requests, and how it’s important to understand the difference between an airspace authorization request vs. a waiver request.
Requesting airspace authorization means that you are asking to operate / fly in controlled airspace, or for drone pilots, Class B, C, D, or lateral E-at-surface airspace.
Applying for a waiver, however, means that you would like to get permission to be exempt from existing regulations, like not being allowed to fly at night, or not being allowed to fly over people or to operate beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS).
When you’re filling the form out, make sure you’re checking the right boxes!
Here is a list of the 12 drone regulations under the Part 107 Small UAS Rule that you can ask to be exempt from:
- 107.25 Operations from a moving vehicle or aircraft
- 107.29 Daylight operation
- 107.31 Visual line of sight aircraft operation
- 107.33 Visual observer
- 107.35 Operation of multiple sUAS
- 107.37(a) Yielding the right of way
- 107.39 Operation over people (what we’re focusing on in this article)
- 107.41 Operation in certain airspace
- 107.51(a) Operating limitations: ground speed
- 107.51(b) Operating limitations: altitude
- 107.51(c) Operating limitations: minimum visibility
- 107.51(d) Operating limitations: minimum distance from clouds
At the New York City Drone Film Festival recently, a member of the audience mentioned during a Q&A that he’d obtained a waiver for flying over people.
After the session, I rushed out after him and asked if we could write about how he managed to get his waiver, and he graciously agreed.
Before we get into Marque de Winter’s story, I’ll say this. With where the U.S. drone industry is at right now, there are no short cuts when it comes for applying for waiver. It’s critical that the remote pilot understand and consider each of the FAA’s performance based standards in the request, not only to streamline the approval process but to embrace risk mitigation and the kind of safety mindset you need to make it in this industry.
Enter Marque de Winter:
How I Obtained a Waiver to Fly Over People
First, I should say that there are certain aspects of the process that I can’t share due to a non-disclosure agreement I signed.
That being said, there is plenty I can share. To start, our waiver was obtained by reaching out directly to the regional director for the FAA where our shoot was going to take place, about six months prior to the shoot.
There were concerns with all of the changes coming down the pipeline of what would and wouldn’t be allowed. This particular project, which was for a major studio, had a very key shot that they wanted and, due to certain limitations, a full size helicopter wasn’t an option.
When we contacted the FAA, we expressed that:
- We only needed a very small window of time (about six hours)
- Everyone we would be flying over would sign a release
- We would have a proper medical crew present in case of an accident
- We would have our heavy lift equipped with a parachute system
We also did a demonstration of the parachute system for a representative of the FAA.
There were months of back and forth discussing everything, and we were very specific about what were doing, and what steps we would (and did) take to operate as safety as possible.
Everyone knows about CNN’s waiver for flying over people, which is a blanket, or permanent, waiver. If you’re trying to get a waiver, I think getting a blanket one would be almost impossible.
However, if you’re equipped to handle an emergency properly, including the use of a parachute system, I think your chances of getting a waiver for this type of operation are pretty good, so long as you start planning really early.
The biggest thing about getting any type of waiver (or authorization) is to just follow the steps, always operate with the highest concern for safety, and always follow regulations.
The best way we can show the FAA and everyone who is worried about commercial UAS operation that we can be good pilots is to have a clean, by-the-book operation.
Be respectful of the government representatives that you work with and communicate with. Understand that if you’re waiver gets turned down they probably have a good reason for turning it down.
How You Can Get a Waiver to Fly Over People
After chatting with Marque, here are our key takeaways for what you can do to be best positioned to get a YES when you request a waiver to fly over other people.
- Start early. Marque said it took six months. Don’t expect to request a waiver and here back next week, and don’t try to build a business around flights that require waivers. Not anytime soon at least.
- Know who to contact. One thing Marque mentions, which may not be immediately clear, is that he contacted the regional director of the FAA. He didn’t simply submit a form electronically to the FAA waiver portal and sit back, hoping to get a positive answer. He did the research, and looked into who he might be able to contact that he could actually meet in person, if needed. Personal contacts are always going to go farther than a form submitted through an online portal.
- Propose a small window of time. Marque mentioned that he only asked for six hours. The more limited and clearly defined your window of time, the more likely your request will be accepted.
- Anticipate safety concerns. Make sure you think carefully through all safety aspects before making your request. Tell the FAA that you’re going to use a parachute; tell them that everyone involved (if you’re asking to fly over people) will be aware of what’s happening and will sign safety waivers; tell them that you’ll have medical personnel on hand in case something does go wrong. The more buttoned up you are when you first reach out, the easier it is for them to say yes.
- Offer to do a demo, or to accommodate any other requirement(s) they might have. Bend over backwards. Make it clear, as Marque says at the end of his story above, that you want to be in compliance, you value safety, and you’re going to do whatever it takes to satisfy the FAA that you are doing everything in the best way possible.
- Make sure you know what you’re asking for. This last item isn’t exactly covered by Marque’s story, but it’s also important. The same form can be used to request both a waiver or an airspace authorization—make sure you know the difference, and you’ve done your research before contacting the FAA or submitting any paperwork. If you fill out the form incorrectly, you’re just setting yourself up to be disappointed down the road.
I hope this article has been helpful!
Questions? Find us at support (at) dronepilotgroundschool (dot) com.