DOT Takes Step Toward Expediting Drone Delivery Authorizations

The Small UAV Coalition is applauding the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) announcement that it will use existing exemption authority to grant economic authority to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operators seeking to carry property in air transportation – representing an important step to expedite drone delivery operations in the U.S., the coalition says.

According to a Federal Register notice issued today, “Notification to UAS Operators Proposing To Engage in Air Transportation,” the DOT aims to establish a “procedure to seek an air taxi operator exemption to hold economic authority from the Department of Transportation for companies proposing to engage in certain air transportation operations with [drones].”

“In order to engage directly or indirectly in air transportation, a citizen of the United States is required to hold economic authority from the department pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 41101, either in the form of a ‘certificate of public convenience and necessity’ or in the form of an exemption from the certificate requirement. This authority is separate and distinct from any safety authority required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),” the notice explains.

“Companies proposing to operate UAS to engage in air transportation, including the delivery of goods for compensation, must first obtain certificate or exemption authority from the department prior to engaging in the air transportation,” it continues.

“The department intends to use its existing regulatory procedures for processing UAS operators’ requests for economic authority,” the notice says. The department’s regulation in 14 CFR part 298 provides an exemption to air taxi operators from the certificate requirements of 49 U.S.C. 41101, provided that, among other things, the air carrier is a citizen of the United States as defined in 49 U.S.C. 40102(a)(15), maintains liability insurance required by part 205 of our rules (14 CFR part 205), and registers with the department.”

The DOT notes that the exemption is not available to air carriers operating aircraft defined as “large” – i.e., “originally designed to have a maximum passenger capacity of more than 60 seats or a maximum payload capacity of more than 18,000 pounds.”

“For UAS operators looking to transport goods for compensation, an exemption under part 298 is an appropriate form of economic authority,” the notice continues. “The department will consider whether granting the exemption is appropriate based on the specific facts and circumstances of each proposed operation.”

The Small UAV Coalition says it has long encouraged the DOT to take this step and is pleased that it will be available to operators as the federal UAS Integration Pilot Program gets underway.

The group says this step will also ensure that operators are subject to a uniform set of economic and safety regulations. As the coalition recently wrote to lawmakers, the U.S.’ lack of a regulatory framework specifically tailored to UAS delivery operations has jeopardized its role as the world’s leader in innovative commercial UAS applications. In turn, the coalition thanks the DOT for issuing this latest notice.

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