The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Part 107 waiver process for the operation of unmanned aerial systems (UAS or drones) in certain restricted airspace or beyond the limitations of the Part 107 UAS regulations, was originally designed to streamline approval. However, for many drone operators who have had their Part 107 waivers denied, the process can often be mysterious and frustrating.  And the FAA’s public database of all approved Part 107 waivers, while useful, does not include denied waivers, which could be key for many operators in determining what information is necessary and what safety processes are desired by the FAA in order to obtain an approval.

In a recent report, the FAA’s denials were reviewed and analyzed. The information was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Drone360. Drone360 received access to 1,656 denied waivers that were submitted over 247 days.

Anyone who has looked at the FAA’s approved waiver database, has noticed that over 90 percent of approved waivers are for night flights. However, night operation applications are also a major portion of the denials as well -63 percent to be exact. This is interesting because night operations are viewed as one of the ‘attainable’ Part 107 waivers. However, besides night operations, the most difficult wavier to receive is for flights over people –only four waivers for operations over people have been approved thus far. So, based on the 510 denials provided by the FAA in response to Drone360’s FOIA request, you have about a 0.8 percent chance of receiving a waiver for flights over people. Of course, this could all change when (and if) the FAA issues the long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for safe drone flights over people.

Overall, according to the FAA data, 4.8 percent of applications were denied due to insufficient safety data, and 95.2 percent were denied due to incomplete information in the application. At this point, all things considered, Part 107 waivers remain a sore spot for many commercial drone operators, and the ambiguous (and often lengthy processing times –up to 9 months in some cases) denials certainly indicate why.