Flying a Large Drone (over 55 pounds)
Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the vast majority are small quadcopters, weighing only a few pounds. Any UAS over .55 pounds is regulated by the FAA, and any of these standard drones, under 55 pounds are considered Small UASs (sUAS). A minority though are over 55 pounds and do not hold the title “small” they also require a whole separate set of rules. With an estimated 5 million UASs in the skies at the end of this year, the number that are larger is going to increase
Specialized UsesThese large UASs have very specialized uses, such as: hypothetical package delivery (if the FAA ever allows use of drones not in line-of-sight), crop dusting, firefighting, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) of crops, cinematography, surveying, mapping, complex reconstruction, and search and rescue. This list of uses is only going to increase as time goes on. The FAA will likely be pressured into issuing a rule - similar to Part 107 - which will regulate commercial uses of these large drones.
Until that time comes, those who wish to fly large drones have two options, you can do so as a hobbyist, or apply for a 333 exemption. It's unlikely that anyone is going to fly a drone of this size for "fun," so a 333 exemption is mandatory as long as there is ANY compensation. Two things must be taken care of before a 333 exemption is applied for. First, the FAA registration requirement is mandatory, if you decided not to register while flying as a hobbyist, definitely do so before receiving any compensation with a large UAS. Second, the Pilot in Command (PIC) must be a licensed FAA pilot (at minimum sport or recreational).
Once you have both of these things, you are ready to begin the tedious process of applying for a 333 exemption. It is recommended that you seek the help of an attorney qualified in the submittal of 333 exemptions. Our attorneys are prepared to create and submit the petition for you, call our office any time at 850/681-7777 to set a free consultation.
Rules of the RoadThis process should take roughly 60 days, but can take up to 6 months, so make sure you begin far in advance of needing UAS use. Once you have a 333 exemption, the blanket rules are very similar to small UAS commercial flights:
Operators must meet general aviation requirements of airspace classification they are operating in, this will usually restricted use to Class G airspace
When operating in the vicinity of an airport without an operating control tower, announce operations in accordance with the FAA Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) 4-1-9.
A distant (D) NOTAM must be issued when unmanned aircraft operations are being conducted. This requirement may be accomplished:
Through the operator's local base operations or NOTAM issuing authority, or
By contacting the NOTAM Flight Service Station at 1-877-4-US-NTMS (1-877-487-6867) not more than 72 hours in advance, but not less than 24 hours prior to the operation, unless otherwise authorized as a special provision. The issuing agency will require the:
(1) Name and address of the pilot filing the NOTAM request
(2) Location, altitude, or operating area
(3) Time and nature of the activity.
(4) Number of UAS flying in the operating area.
Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)
Must fly under 400 feet
BUT, up to 400 above any building, as long as you are 400 feet or less from it laterally
Must fly during the day
Cannot fly more than 30 minutes after sunset or before sunrise
Must yield right of way to manned aircraft
Various other rules found here.
Non-waivable rulesAll of the above rules CAN be waived through a formal Air Traffic Organization (ATO) Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) or within the 333 exemption petition both through the FAA. The following will not be waived under any circumstances:
The PIC must be in control the entire flight
The PIC must be sober, you cannot have any drugs or alcohol that would impair your ability to fly safely, a blood alcohol level over .04% is a violation
No waiver can be issued to allow the carriage of property of another by aircraft for compensation or hire
Line-of-sight must be kept at all times
PIC must hold at minimum a sport or recreational license for manned aircraft
Final StepThe final step is to make sure you follow the laws in your state, many states have drone regulations in place which further control business uses.
If you have any questions about how to legally fly a drone that's larger than 55 pounds in your state, contact a qualified attorney who can help you. Our attorneys are experienced in Florida Drone Law, and have processed multiple 333 exemption petitions. If you are cited by the FAA for unlawful UAS use, or need to obtain a 333 exemption, it is highly advisable to consult with a qualified attorney before addressing either. Call our office any time at 850/681-7777 to set a free consultation.
 Federal Aviation Administration, FAA Aerospace Forecast: Fiscal Years 2016-2036 31 (2016), https://www.faa.gov/data_research/aviation/aerospace_forecasts/media/FY2016-36_FAA_Aerospace_Forecast.pdf.
 Jonathan Rupprecht, Ultimate Guide to the FAA's Part 107, Rupprect L., https://jrupprechtlaw.com/faas-new-far-part-107-drone-operators-need-know.