The Exemptions Database

150703 CSD Bard College The American Exemptions Database


This database has been updated to reflect new exemptions up to July 15, 2015. 

By Arthur Holland Michel and Dan Gettinger

Until the Federal Aviation Administration implements comprehensive regulations for the use of unmanned aircraft within the U.S. sometime in 2016, only those companies in possession of a Section 333 exemption are permitted to operate drones commercially. The FAA began issuing 333 exemptions in September of 2014 as a stopgap measure to allow certain low-risk commercial drone operations while the industry waits for the full regulations. (All non-exempted, non-recreational drone operations are currently illegal). In order to receive an exemption, companies and individuals must describe, among other details, exactly what kind of drone they will be using and how they will be using it. Here, we have compiled data from all the Section 333 exemptions to date. This database, which includes, in addition to this information, the location of the exempted enterprise, the category of the application, and a description of the intended drone use, will be updated regularly as the FAA continues to issue new exemptions. The database allows you to track the commercial drone industry during this interim period. It affords us a view of the contours of commercial drone proliferation in its infancy, and provides a preview of what the industry will look like once those regulations are finally implemented.

Download (PDF, 711KB) – The Database

We found that while many exempted individuals and companies will be working in a single field like agriculture or film, a large number of the exemptions went to companies that seek to provide aerial imagery and services to a range of industries. In the agriculture category for example, a little under half of the companies that received an exemption intend to use drones specifically for farming while the rest of the companies intend to also work in other industries. In order to accurately account for the number of companies working in each industry or field, we have devised our own system of categories in which one exemption can count under more than one type of drone application.

When we initially wrote about the FAA’s exemptions in April, only one hundred companies were permitted to fly drones commercially. Today, there are over 700 companies and that number is rising by as many as 50 new exemptions per week. Since April, we’ve seen a relatively consistent spread of companies per industry as well as a growth in exemptions for some fields like real estate. As the number of exempted companies continues to increase, we expect to see drones used in a growing number of ways and industries.


150703 CSD Bard College The American Exemptions Database table

Madi Garvin, Olive Kuhn, Tekendra Parmar, and Rao Vinnakota contributed to this research.

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