The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that it will use its existing exemption authority to grant economic authority to unmanned aerial systems (UAS or drones) operators who wish to use UAS for package delivery. According to the Federal Register “Notification to UAS Operators Proposing to Engage in Air Transportation,” the DOT aims to create a “procedure to [DOT] for companies proposing to engage in certain air transportation operations with [drones].” Per 49 U.S.C. 41101, in order to engage in air transportation in the U.S., the entity or individual is required to hold economic authority for the DOT from a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” or in the form of an exemption from the certificate requirement. This is separate and distinct from any authority required from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “The [DOT] intends to use its existing regulatory procedures for processing UAS operators’ requests for economic authority,” the notice says. The department’s regulation in 14 CFR part 298 provides an exemption to air taxi operators from the certificate requirements of 49 U.S.C. 41101, provided that the drone operator is a citizen of the United States as defined in 49 U.S.C. 40102(a)(15), maintains liability insurance required by part 205 of [the] rules (14 CFR part 205), and registers with the [DOT]. This exemption applies only to a maximum payload capacity of no more than 18,000 pounds.

“For UAS operators looking to transport goods for compensation, an exemption under part 298 is an appropriate form of economic authority,” the notice continues. “The department will consider whether granting the exemption is appropriate based on the specific facts and circumstances of each proposed operation.”