In the United States, the FAA’s LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization & Notification Capability) has removed significant barriers when it comes to flying drones in controlled airspace around airports. For example, Southern Company uses Skyward to access LAANC for near real-time authorizations so crews can assess power outages in controlled airspace at a moment’s notice. But regulations around drones are still developing, and you must obtain a Part 107 waiver for certain types of operations.
While controlled airspace is now more accessible, drone pilots still face certain restrictions when flying:
- from a moving vehicle or aircraft
- at night
- beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)
- multiple drones with only one remote pilot
- without having to yield right of way to other aircraft
- over people
- over 100 miles per hour, more than 400 feet above ground level, with less than 3 miles of visibility, or close to clouds
If you want to fly under any of those conditions, a LAANC request won’t cut it. You’ll need to get a Part 107 waiver from the FAA—a process that can take up to 90 days. But there’s good news: thousands of these waivers have been issued, with more coming every day.
Some waiver requests, such as flights at night, have a high success rate: over 3,000 have been approved. Others, such as flights at high speed or with low visibility, have only had a handful approved. As of yet, the FAA hasn’t granted a waiver for right of way around other aircraft.
It’s also worth noting that flights under a Part 107 waiver cannot be combined with LAANC requests. So if you need to conduct a special operation in controlled airspace, you’ll need to apply for two waivers: one to waive a Part 107 rule, and one for controlled airspace access.
The FAA has made it easier to apply for Part 107 waivers digitally through FAADroneZone, the government’s official website for registering drones, reporting accidents, and managing waivers and authorizations. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get a waiver; the FAA has had to reject even more applications than it has approved.
I lead Skyward’s team of operational and regulatory consultants. Our customers call on us to help them create safety cases and apply for waivers from the FAA. If you’re going to apply for a Part 107 waiver, here are some tips to help you be successful:
1. Check current Part 107 regulations
This may seem obvious, but you must check current FAA regulations as your first step. Drone rules are constantly evolving, so a restriction on drone flights right now may or may not be relevant a month from now. You can find current and complete information from the FAA on Part 107 waivers here.
Of course, regulatory action is always going on behind the scenes, too: proposed rulemaking, industry feedback, and practical use of rules in the field. This can be hard to keep track of, especially if you aren’t familiar with aviation and UAS terms. If you ever have a question about current or upcoming drone regulations, let us know here at Skyward. We’d be happy to discuss your concerns and get you up to speed.
2. Be ready to prove safety
The FAA wants to see that your company is able to provide the same level of safety under a Part 107 waiver as under normal conditions. If the FAA doesn’t think you’ve done enough to prove risk mitigation in your special operation, it’s their job to reject your waiver request. The burden of proof is on you.
This document from the FAA provides a point-by-point breakdown of many—but not all—of the factors you will need to account for when applying for a waiver. It includes special factors for each waiverable rule. For each item on the list, you will need to have a clear, practical explanation for how you plan to mitigate the risk. The list doesn’t claim to be all-inclusive, though, which means that you may need to provide more explanation depending on your operation.
3. Be thorough
The FAA has published a Waiver Trend Analysis to help waiver applicants avoid common mistakes. According to the FAA, “Many waiver applications are brief—two sentences or less—and do not provide the FAA with adequate information to effectively assess the risk of the desired operation.” Don’t let this happen to you!
When providing your safety explanation, take your time and be thorough. In the long run it will save you time, since a rejection after a wait period as long as 90 days could greatly delay your operations and prevent you from seeing return on investment. At the same time, don’t be wordy, either. Aviators value brevity and use clear, concise language as much as possible. The FAA probably won’t take the time to read a novel-length safety explanation.
At minimum, you’ll need to explain each of the waiver safety explanation guidelines, including:
- Operational details: Where do you plan to operate? How high will you fly? Will you be in controlled airspace? What environmental conditions could affect your operations?
- Aircraft details: What kind of drone will you be flying? How long is the flight time? What kind of flight termination system does the UAS have? Explain the kind of payload will it be carrying.
- Pilot/Personnel Details: How much experience will the Remote Pilot in Command be required to have? How many personnel will be on site? Explain how they will be tested and prepared?
- Operational Risks and Mitigations: What risks could be caused by flying your drone under this waiver? What steps will you take to mitigate those risks?
The final section may be the most important. Don’t be fooled by the size of the “Waiver Safety Information” text box in FAADroneZone—this is where you must show the FAA that you have identified and accounted for as many operational risks as possible. Again, you don’t have to be exhaustive, but you should clearly show that your drone operations pose minimal risk to all people and property.
At the same time, remember that you must abide by each and every condition you include in your waiver, if approved. Be sure you can adequately perform your operation with any limitations you impose on yourself.
4. Let Skyward help
Part 107 regulations can be complicated, and there may be more factors to consider when applying for a waiver. We have provided additional tips in another article on the Skyward blog, and the FAA website has many resources to help you, including sample safety justifications, webinars, guidelines, and instructions.
If this seems overwhelming, don’t let it be. Skyward’s Professional Services team helps businesses apply for waivers, and we’re happy to help you, too. In addition to waiver support, we provide professional guidance to help you conduct advanced use cases as safely possible, leading to less risk and maximum return on investment. See what Skyward’s professional drone consulting services can do for your drone program. And if you’d like to learn more, contact us—we’d love to hear from you.