One of the great innovations of the Part 107 regulations for unmanned aircraft was the ability to obtain a waiver from many of its more restrictive requirements. The Part 107 waiver process allows operators the flexibility to fly at night, fly beyond visual line of sight, or operate more than one drone at the same time.
Unfortunately, most waivers have an expiration date of 48 months. As a result, as we approach the 4th anniversary of the issuance of the first waivers, the FAA is going to have to gear up to process a growing number of waiver renewal requests. The Drone Advisory Committee recommended that the FAA address this issue by auto-renewing all expiring waivers. Unfortunately, the FAA believes it does not have the authority to do this, and instead has created an expedited process to permit applicants to file for renewal.
The FAA explained this expedited renewal process at the recent FAA UAS Symposium. According to the presentation, the renewal of waivers under 14 CFR 107.29 (daylight operations) is tied to the pending NPRM for Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft over People, RIN:2120-AK85. As you may remember, that NPRM contains a full set of proposed night operations rules. If the night flights conducted under your expiring waiver would be permissible under new rule, and your organization still has the same Responsible Person, organization name, and address, then the FAA will amend your waiver and extend its effective date to the date the new regulations go into effect.
The FAA will also expedite renewal of waivers under 14 CFR 107.39 (operations over people). If your waiver flights can be conducted under the injury threshold requirements of the proposed regulation and your organization’s information has not changed, then the waiver will be amended with an expiration date of when the new regulations go into effect.
For waivers of any other section of Part 107, the FAA announced that a new application must be filed that meets the requirements of 14 C.F.R. 107.200, which includes a complete waiver application and a full risk analysis. There is no “short-cut” process for these waivers.
The FAA also made clear that the rules applicable to all FAA waiver renewals still apply. Renewal can be sought within 90 days of the waiver expiration date. Requests for renewal or extension made prior to 90 days before the expiration date will be automatically rejected. In addition, all renewals should be made through the FAA’s Drone Zone portal.
Finally, the FAA reaffirmed that it expects the final rule for the Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Over People to go into effect at the end of December 2020. So, for anyone flying under a waiver that expires in 2020, now would be a good time to figure out when your renewal request should be filed and calendar the date.