The aviation industry has seen a sharp increase of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), more commonly known as Drones or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), in the past couple of years. These aircraft are not limited to the ominous likes of the military versions like the Predator, but now includes more simple and less malevolent craft, most commonly used for aerial photography.
Section 333 refers to a section of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA). This section allows the FAA to make a determination regarding whether or not an aircraft (which now includes UASs) requires an airworthiness certificate (essentially, this is the license to operate an aircraft in the National Airspace System (NAS)). Additionally, this authority is being leveraged to grant case-by-case authorization for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations prior to the finalization of the Small UAS Rule, which will be the primary method for authorizing small UAS operations once it is complete.
If you plan to operate a drone for hire (commercially) then you must obtain this exemption from the FAA. Otherwise, you can operate drones as a hobby or just for your own personal use as you desire and within the bounds of the laws (most of which exist strictly for safety reasons).
Additionally, if you operate a drone that weighs more than 0.55 lbs, you must register it with the FAA. This process is relatively painless and only costs $5. You can do it online, through the FAA website here, even if you are planning commercial operations.
Getting the exemption is not a complex process if you know how to navigate the FAA regulatory landscape. You can choose to do it yourself, the FAA has the instructions in their Unmanned Aerial Systems page, but if you feel like you're in over your head, there are options like VERTEX Aero LLC that can support you through the entire process.
The FAA has provided a list of Drones for which "blanket" approval has been given, this doesn't mean that you don't have to apply for the exemption for the listed models; it means that the FAA will likely approve your petition for exemption much faster. If your model is not on the list, you may just have to wait a bit longer for them to process the petition.
The FAA will provide you the letter of exemption which will contain your exemption number, the regulations from which you are exempt, and the operating guidelines and limitations that you must abide by during commercial operations. You must adhere to these limitations at all times or risk having your exemption revoked.
After you have registered your drone and received your letter of exemption, will receive a Certificate of Authorization (COA) for certain operations (There has been a blanket COA issued for operations in certain airspace which will help in getting things going for most operators). However, if you need to operate outside of the limits of this airspace, you must obtain a COA specific to the operation you want from the FAA COA portal, prior to those planned commercial operations. This process can take up to 60 days - so be prepared.
VERTEX Aero LLC will support you with your petition, we will write it for you, file it on your behalf, help you with the registration process, and assist you as needed in obtaining a COA. All of this for a competitive flat fee.