In this article, I want to share some information about Part 107 waivers, particularly what the current landscape looks like for a waiver for 107.39 Operation over people, and how to go about applying.
In our airspace authorization guide, we wrote about how it’s important to understand the difference between an airspace authorization request vs. a Part 107 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 Part 107 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
How Hard Is It to Get a Waiver to Fly Over People?
To date, only three companies have secured a waiver for flying over people—CNN, FLIR, and Project Wing.
All Part 107 waivers that have been granted are public record on the FAA’s website. Here is a full list of the 107.39 waivers that have been approved so far:
Given that only three companies have been granted a waiver to fly over people, the current reality is that it’s unlikely you’ll be granted one, especially if you’re applying as an independent operator.
That being said, we are seeing new technology such as UTMs and advanced collision avoidance that could enable the release of more waivers for flying over people . . . but we wouldn’t hold our breath.
What Can We Learn from Existing 107.39 Waivers?
CNN was the first company ever to be granted a waiver to fly over people as part of the FAA’s Pathfinder Program. However, that first 107.39 waiver only allowed them to fly 21 feet in the air, so it really made more for good PR than for actual use.
Fast forward to October, 2017, and CNN is making headlines for having been issued the most permissive 107.39 waiver to date. Their third and most current waiver is ground breaking in the drone industry, because it allows operations over open-air assemblies and flights up to an altitude of 150 feet above ground level over people.
Since CNN has three 107.39 waivers, let’s take a look at the progression in the language from their very first waiver, which was issued on August 29, 2016, to their third waiver, which was issued recently on October 13, 2017, to see what we can learn.
One of the first things you notice when reading CNN’s first 107.39 waiver, which is the very first waiver ever granted by the FAA to fly over people, is that CNN has essentially invented the requisite materials to demonstrate the responsibility, preparedness, and system requirements necessary for flying over people (presumably in collaboration with the FAA, as a member of the Pathfinder Program).
In CNN’s first 107.39 waiver, the FAA references seven different supporting documents submitted to support CNN’s application:
- CNN UAS Operations Manual
- Concept of Operations
- Operational Risk Assessment
- Fotokite Pro Operator Guide
- Fotokite Pro Specification Sheet
- Fotokite Safety Datasheet
- RTI Fotokite Report
In the second waiver, none of these resources are mentioned (presumably because they are already on file).
And then, in CNN’s third 107.39 waiver, we see that these resources have changed and are now listed as:
- CNN UAS Operations Manual (version 1.8)
- CNN Vantage Robotics Snap Concept of Operations (CONOPS)
- CNN Operational Risk Assessment for the Vantage Robotics Snap (ORA)
- CNN Supplemental Letter in Support of Waiver Request to Operate the Snap UAS Over People
It’s worth noting the emphasis in all of these supporting materials on the UAS itself.
For CNN’s first waiver, four of the seven documents listed have to do with the Fotokite drone, and in the list of documents for CNN’s third waiver, two of the four documents listed have to do with the Snap drone.
Broadening Scope, Tightening Definitions
Moving forward, another thing you notice when you compare CNN’s first two waivers is that the FAA grows more permissive in the second waiver, but also much more focused in their definitions and allowances.
Here are some examples:
- While the first waiver only allows for flights 21 feet in the air, the second allows for flying higher (although we don’t seem to find a specific cap on the height allowed).
- While the first waiver generally allows flying over people and only prohibits “operations over open-air assemblies”, the second waiver only allows flying over certain people, i.e. Direct Participants and Persons Authorized (each designation has a specific definition).
- While the first waiver contains 18 provisions, the second one contains 29, with many sub-provisions. One big cause for the extension of provisions in the second waiver is the inclusion of much more granular information regarding equipment maintenance, record-keeping, and the types of information to be recorded prior to flying and following malfunctions.
Want to see all three of CNN’s approved 107.39 waivers in full?
Here you go:
As we mentioned above, CNN’s third waiver goes much further than the first two in its allowances, and gives CNN permission for UAS operations over open-air assemblies (which was expressly not allowed in their second waiver), and flights up to an altitude of 150 feet above ground level.
Project Wing received a 107.39 waiver in September, 2017, just one month before CNN received their third. In the world of waivers for flying over people, for the FAA to issue two in a row (i.e., in September and October) is something like a miracle.
Project Wing is a drone delivery company, and it looks like they’ll be using their waiver for deliveries and/or delivery experiments. Some unique language we noticed in their waiver is:
…operations over non-participants are restricted to transient flights only, and must remain at least 10 feet from any non-participating human being.
We assume transient here refers to flights over people while the drone is on its way to make a delivery.
This progression does indicate a positive trend for those who want permissions eased for flying over people. That being said, it looks like we still have a long way to go before your average solopreneur will be able to successfully apply for a 107.39 waiver.
I hope this article has been helpful!
Questions? Find us at support (at) dronepilotgroundschool (dot) com.