FAA Grants UAS Exemption to Trimble Navigation

December 10, 2014  - By
The Trimble UX5. Photo: Trimble

The Trimble UX5. Photo: Trimble

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today granted five regulatory exemptions for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations to four companies representing several industries that promise to benefit from UAS technology, including Trimble Navigation Ltd.

The four companies that received exemptions want to fly UAS to perform operations for aerial surveying, construction site monitoring and oil rig flare stack inspections.

“Unmanned aircraft offer a tremendous opportunity to spur innovation and economic activity by enabling many businesses to develop better products and services for their customers and the American public,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “We want to foster commercial uses of this exciting technology while taking a responsible approach to the safety of America’s airspace.”

The commercial entities that received exemptions today are Trimble Navigation, VDOS Global, Clayco, and Woolpert (two exemptions). The FAA earlier granted exemptions to seven film and video production companies. This is the first exemption granted to a leading GNSS firm.

Secretary Foxx found that the UAS in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness because they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security. Those findings are permitted under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

The firms also asked the FAA to grant exemptions from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates. In their petitions, the firms said they will operate UAS weighing less than 55 pounds and keep the UAS within line of sight at all times.

The exemption will allow Trimble to conduct commercial operation of its UX5 Aerial Imaging Solution. The UX5 is an unmanned fixed-wing aircraft targeted at the surveying, agriculture, oil and gas, mining, construction, environmental industries. The system autonomously captures a series of high-resolution images during flight, which is typically up to 50 minutes covering as much as 2.3 square kilometers (approximately 1 square mile) when flying 120 meters (approximately 400 feet) above the ground. Using Trimble Business Center Aerial Photogrammetry software, images are used to easily generate 2D and 3D deliverables such as orthomosaic images, three-dimensional point clouds and contour maps. The Trimble UX5 enables the collection of large amounts of data, often faster than traditional surveying or mapping technologies.

The Trimble UX5 surveys a construction site. Photo: Trimble

The Trimble UX5 surveys a construction site. Photo: Trimble

“We are pleased to be among the first companies to receive an exemption from the FAA authorizing commercial operation of UAS,” said Erik Arvesen, vice president of Trimble’s Geospatial Division. “This decision reflects Trimble’s efforts to responsibly operate its UAS business in the U.S. while the FAA addresses air safety issues in opening the NAS for commercial UAS operations on a broader scale. Trimble will continue its efforts to support the FAA’s decision-making process and to provide opportunities for our customers to safely use the UX5 to capture accurate geospatial data for a wide range of applications such as surveying, oil and gas, mining, construction and many more.”

“In the agriculture market, the FAA exemption moves Trimble one step further with the opportunity to provide a solution for safe and legal UAS operations that can benefit growers, ranchers, water management contractors, agronomists and other ag service providers,” said Joe Denniston, vice president of Trimble’s Agriculture Division. “High-speed aerial imaging is a powerful tool that can quickly and easily capture aerial images for scouting and monitoring crop health, locating cattle and their available forage over large areas, measuring crop height, and generating topographic maps and models for land leveling and drainage applications. As a result, the system can be a powerful data collection tool that can aid with recommendations to improve farming operations.”

In granting the exemptions, the FAA considered the operating environments and required certain conditions and limitations to assure the safe operation of these UAS in the National Airspace System. The agency also will issue Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) that mandate flight rules and timely reports of any accident or incidents..

“The FAA’s first priority is the safety of our nation’s aviation system,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Today’s exemptions are a step toward integrating UAS operations safely.”

As of today, the agency has received 167 requests for exemptions from commercial entities.

You can view the FAA’s exemption grants here. Also, read more about the exemptions in Eric Gakstatter’s Geospatial Solutions column. Below is the Trimble exception document.


1 Comment on "FAA Grants UAS Exemption to Trimble Navigation"

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  1. Daniel Capps says:

    As usual it’s the big guys with the deep pockets that can afford the legal back-office support to deal with the governmental red tape. From what I’ve read (see http://geospatial-solutions.com/five-new-faa-commercial-uav-exemptions-what-do-they-mean/), the exemptions allow for only the use of Trimble owned and operated UAS equipment. I would say this would be fine if Trimble were doing this specifically to further the cause of opening the UAS market to all, but what I see is four large private firms making money in an unfair privileged situation that we little guys would have no chance to even pursue. While it’s true the projects involved are of substantial size and these large firms are probably more suitably equipped and staffed than most smaller firms, there are many opportunities that would lend themselves to the use of UAS by smaller firms if there was a simple process for obtaining permissions or licensure. Until a small business owner can sit down and complete the necessary application paperwork by himself in a couple of hours, I don’t think any private firm seeking profit in the endeavor should be able to throw their big legal bucks at the FAA to get their way. You may say that this sounds selfish and my philosophy would hinder the advancement of the use of UAS by the afore mentioned small business owner. Well if or when general usage of UAS technology does become a reality, guess who will be ahead of the game and will be able to say to the marketplace “Pay no attention to that little guy. We are the only ones who have been doing this for years.”? It won’t be us little guys.