DIJ Phantom 2 Vision+. Source: Wikipedia

FAA Drone Exemptions

By law, any aircraft operation in the national airspace requires a certificated and registered aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operational approval. Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) (PDF) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS). - Federal Aviation Authority

Commercial drone operators must receive a FAA Section 333 exemption if they wish to fly their UAVs in US skies. This interactive database is updated monthly to include information about the granted Section 333 petitions.

Note about the data:  we started off with data from The Center for the Study of The Drone (Bard College),  which maintains a detailed spreadsheet of FAA drone exemptions granted. Source for their work is the pdf information published by the FAA. Like the FAA list, the first reported exemptions date September 25th, 2014. 

We cleaned this starting data. For example, we carefully normalized company names and aircraft models. We also researched the manufacturers of each approved drone models. Then we visualized it in this resource.

Last update: November 12th, 2015, including data up to the 30th of September, 2015. 

The is FAA Rapidly Approving More and More Permission to Fly Drones for Commercial Purposes

Before March 2015, getting consumer drone exemptions from the FAA was much harder than it is today. Between October 2014 and March 2015, the FAA had granted them only  60 times.Then, it announced that the agency would use a "flexible regulatory approach", and things started to change. In April alone, the FAA conceded 178 exemptions: more exemptions than all the previous 5 months put together. And in September, there have been 357 new permissions, bringing the 2015 total to 1,721.

In fact, the FAA conceded about half of all the exemptions in just the last two months included in the database. A sign of how the agency is quickly speeding up the process.

When were the drone exemptions approved?

September 2014 data starts from 25/09/2014

The Real Estate Sector is the Second Biggest Drone Commercial Operator

Almost a third of the approved commercial drone operators asked to fly UAVs for photo and filming purposes: from taking amazing aerial pictures, to shooting Hollywood movies. 

The biggest surprise, however, comes from the real estate sector. Companies in the business account for about 20% of all the exemptions, all 654 of them granted only this year.

Agriculture also benefits from using FAA approved drones, being the receiver of 348 exemptions. In fact, according to Fortune, thanks to FAA exemptions, 2015 will be a big year for agriculture drones and intelligent crop management.

Other interesting fields have only a couple of FAA approved drone operators, Archaeology, search & rescue, and mapping.

China's DJI Drones Are By Far the Favorite of US Commerical Drone Market

More than two-thirds of all the FAA approved drones are models made by DJI. The second most popular manufacturer is 3D Robotics, but its 7% share is far DJI's record.

Note: Each FAA exemption can ask for the license to fly more than one drone model. This is why there are more drones than the number of exemptions

The top three most common FAA-approved drones are all by DJI: the Inspire 1, the Phantom 2 Vision+ and the Phantom 2. All are models equipped with cameras and specifically intended for aerial photo and video.

California Might be the Receiver of Most FAA Drone Exemptions, But It's Alaska That Has the Highest Per-Capita Rate

Conceded FAA Section 333 Exemptions per State (per 1 million inhabitants)

Commercial drone operators in California received 212 FAA approvals: the highest number recorded in any other countries. Florida, with 199, and Texas, with 141 follow.

In comparison, Alaska's operators received only 12 exemptions. Yet that's 16 per million inhabitants, against the 4.2 of California.

Sydor Aerial Photography (Indiana) and OpenSky Drones (Florida) Were Granted More Than 5 Different Exemptions

Companies can be granted more than one FAA exemptions. Currently, the 1,733 exemptions in the database have been granted to 1,641 businesses. This means that some filed more than one successful petition.

Sydor Aerial Photography, in Mishawaka (IN) has been particularly successful with the FAA. It was granted 7 exemptions for different usages, from emergency services to real estate.

Change the filters to see a list of exemptions granted to a company, for a specific usage, for a certain drone model, and so on.

Interactive Map of All FAA Consumer Drone Exemptions. Who's Using Lockheed Martin's Military Drones?

Use the following map to find down who's using what. For example, we discovered that enrGies (Huntsville,AL), operating in the field of Education has permission to fly a Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk III. The same aircraft model used by the US in its war on terror.

Change the filters in the following map to customize what you want to show. For example. if you wish to see the latest exemptions granted, try resetting the "Aircraft Model->Manufacturer" filter and setting "Month" filter to August 2015. 

Map of Exemptions

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