The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has already granted 76 exemptions to a new small commercial drone rule that went into effect Monday, officials announced during a press conference.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said 72 of the waivers granted so far deal with nighttime operations, while CNN was given a waiver to fly a drone over people.
Huerta emphasized that the exemptions were provided in cases in which the operators could prove that drone use is safe and had mitigation plans in place.
The new regulation permits routine drone use for aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds under certain circumstances, such as flight during daylight or twilight hours and within the visual line of sight.
But the drone industry worried that the rigid conditions would stifle innovation, and pushed the FAA to include an exemption process in the final rule.
The FAA agreed and has created an online portal commercial drone operators can use to apply for a waiver. The agency will also be posting exemptions online so that people can see the conditions under which other operators get waivers.
Proponents of the technology have also worried it will be a time-consuming process for FAA to process all the waivers, especially in the initial roll-out phase of the new rule.
Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA’s drone integration office, also warned requests are being processed manually.
“It may be an automated front portal, but on the back end, we’re doing a lot of things manually until we have the resources to completely automate it,” Lawrence said last week.
But the agency does not intend to rely on the waiver process in the long run, calling the small commercial drone rule just the first major step in its effort to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace. The goal is to gradually develop more rules that would establish other conditions under which operators could fly.
Huerta said the FAA is already working to release a rule by the end of this year that will permit drone flights over crowds. The agency will also work on crafting a rule that would allow operations beyond the visual line of sight.
“It is never going to be a finite process where we sit back and say, ‘OK we’re done,’” Huerta said. “We have from the very beginning characterized this integration as a staged process, as we learn more about how the industry is evolving.”