Me, my drone, and my FAA Section 333

Sky-Futures is the global leader for UAV inspections in onshore and offshore oil and gas.
In the third of a series of insights, Nick Rogers talks about the regulatory process in the US and recent Section 333 approval for commercial drone operations in America.

Almost 200 hundred days after Section 333 exemption submission, Sky-Futures has received its approval to begin commercial UAV operations in United States national airspace. Subject to the conditions now stipulated in the FAA approval our company can now get on with drone inspections in America, the biggest single source marketplace for our unmanned technology. Now Sky-Futures can execute its US business plan that will invest significant sums of money integrating our proven drone technology solutions and services into the US oil and gas market. Our setup in the US will create jobs, cut cost and improve efficiency through innovation, but crucially, will increase safety using life-saving drone technology on inherently dangerous industrial infrastructure.

Sky-Futures USA was the 47th company to receive a Section 333 Exemption. This table contains all current exemption grantees.

Sky-Futures USA was the 47th company to receive a Section 333 Exemption. This table contains all current exemption grantees.

Whatever your thoughts are around drone regulation in the emergent US industry, through Section 333 exemption, there is a process. More importantly, this is a way to get to market. I will admit that the process is far from perfect, requires significant patience and is cumbersome. However, it is the chink of light that any aspiring commercial drone business must currently follow in the US. Those who wait for deliberations from the recent Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for small UAS will miss the boat and lose valuable time in this rapidly accelerating marketplace.

I am passionate that as our business quickly rolls out across the US and with our significant global oil and gas client-base, that we can prove both the benefits and serious enhancement to safety that drone technology brings. We will continue to work closely with the FAA through constructive dialogue facilitated by the excellent Small UAV Coalition that Sky-Futures is a board member of. However, just because we have received a positive Section 333 exemption doesn’t mean our regulatory work is done. Like in other parts of the world, it is important that from a position of understanding and deep knowledge of global drone operations that we seek to influence better outcomes for the whole industry by continuing to set a good example in safety and technology innovation. The goal is to move the drone industry quickly but iteratively in partnership with as many proactive stakeholders as possible.

Section 333 nirvana has been achieved by using the incumbent process and this article follows naturally on from my previous two insights as it bought into play the main topics of those articles.

Insight 1: Love Your RegulatorA process that I often describe to people as ‘frustratingly satisfying’. Working with regulators will put you through the spectrum of human emotion but you always have to bear in mind that drone technology is new, it is exciting but it is also disruptive. Disruptive in the sense that with no real blueprint the regulators prefer to feel their way along. A regulators overriding lookout is the safe integration of this technology into the existing airspace infrastructure based on the ‘known knowns’ i.e. manned aviation. In technology terms, some of the small drone technology emerging, notably from Silicon Valley and Portland in the US, is world beating and ahead of many other countries. However, the missing pieces in the drone technology jigsaw in the US are real operators with real experience and real understanding of industry problems that the game changing data from these magnificent flying machines can capture. We hope to begin this change.

Insight 2: Operations ManualThe less exciting bit but absolutely necessary. Your operations manual proves that you are minded to operate your drone safely and responsibly according to the current regulatory framework. Without describing to the FAA how you run your drone operation in the form of a carefully put together operations manual you cannot begin. Your team should include someone with significant commercial aviation knowledge who can develop this part of the business. Without them you are unlikely to get off the ground!

Advice and help from people ‘in the know’ is also very important. Two fruitful partnerships have been very important for the inception of Sky-Futures USA.

Small UAV Coalition – Actively participating in the conversation about commercial drones in the US. Joining the Small UAV Coalition has been crucial for Sky-Futures USA business visibility and credibility. The coalition has more tentacles into administration and legislature than we could ever wish to gain. Their work is diligent, proactive and constructive in helping define the future for this technology in the United States of America.

Skyward – Sky-Futures collaborated with Skyward professional services to write its Section 333 petition to ensure a positive response first time. Their knowledge of FAA machinations and eye for existing regulatory detail was an important step on the road to Section 333 success.

Finally, in the spirit that collectively, we the protagonists, are only at the very beginning of our drone technology adventure and what we do today using this technology will look entirely different in the future, I am reminded of a famous Orwellian quote.

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past”
Section 333 is a way to gain some control of your destiny and move into the future with the most exciting technology of a generation.

Link to Sky-Futures FAA Exemption – 11208