Uncrewed Aircraft Defined

Determining what is, and is not, “manned” aircraft is important because it determines whether an aircraft falls under the purview of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). If it does, then it is held to the same standard as traditional manned aircraft and must comply with all of the same requirements. 

Upon initial review, defining “uncrewed aircraft” seems to be intuitive and somewhat self-explanatory. However, with close examination and careful thought what is and is not “uncrewed” becomes less clear. For example, what if there is not a pilot in the aircraft but the aircraft is being flown by a person standing on the ground, using a remote control? Or must an “uncrewed” aircraft be one that is flown completely autonomously without any human input? 

Article 8 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation states, “No aircraft capable of being flown without a pilot shall be flown without a pilot over the territory of a contracting State without special authorization by that State and in accordance with the terms of such authorization. Each contracting State undertakes to insure that the flight of such aircraft without a pilot in regions open to civil aircraft shall be so controlled as to obviate danger to civil aircraft.”

Article 8 makes clear that the drafters intended “pilotless aircraft” to include aircraft that were remotely controlled, e.g., from the ground (via radio signals); thus, “pilotless aircraft” in the sense that Article 8 refers to an aircraft flown without a “pilot”.

Article 32 of Convention on International Civil Aviation states, provides, “the pilot of every aircraft and the other members of the operating crew of every aircraft engaged in international navigation shall be provided with certificates of competency and licenses issued or rendered valid by the state in which the aircraft is registered”.

When is a uav – “pilotless”?

Defining “pilotless” is of great importance because the pilots/company must get “special authorization by that State and in accordance with the terms of such authorization”. 

The term “without a pilot” was later clarified to mean that an “aircraft which is intended to be operated with no pilot on board shall be further classified as unmanned,” Furthermore, “unmanned aircraft shall include remotely-piloted aircraft.” 

An aircraft is not required to be fully autonomous in order to be uncrewed. An aircraft that is controlled by a person is still “uncrewed”, so long as the person controlling the aircraft is not located within the aircraft. For example, a quad-copter- drone that is controlled remotely by a person on the ground is still an unmanned aircraft. RPA as “an [uncrewed] aircraft which is piloted from a remote pilot station”. 

all aircraft are subject to article 8

All uncrewed aircraft, whether remotely piloted, fully autonomous or combinations thereof, are subject to the provisions of Article 8 and inter alia the ICAO.

Annex 7 makes it clear that remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), are simply one type of uncrewed aircraft, and all uncrewed pilotless aircraft, whether remotely piloted, fully autonomous, or combinations thereof, are subject to the provisions of Article 8 of the Chicago convention. Because RPAS are aircraft, ICAO is responsible for their international air travel. They are held to the ICAO standards.

Somewhat ironically, the Chicago Convention, which is considered to be the magna carta of civil aircraft, never actually defines the word “aircraft”. In 1967, in response to advancements in technology, ICAO re-defined “aircraft” as “any machine that can drive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the are other than the reactions of the are against the Earth’s surface,” 

This change in the definition of “aircraft” came primarily as a response to the invention of “hovercraft”. A hovercraft is a machine that elevates itself off of the ground by pushing in downward to lift the vehicle off of the ground. Because a hovercraft creates lift by pushing air onto the ground it is not capable of “flying” more than a few inches in the air. 

The need for ICAO to redefine one of its most fundamental words, “aircraft” due to development of previously unforeseen technology—the hovercraft—is a perfect example of how quickly technology can change and how it can make prior norms outdated.

The Dunaway Law Group provides this information as a service to clients and other friends for educational purposes only. It should not be construed or relied on as legal advice and does not create a lawyer-client or attorney-prospective client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking advice from professional advisers. Additionally, this Firm limits its practice to the states of Arizona and New York.

49 U.S.C. 44807 Grants to UAS

Instructions for Requesting FAA Exemption

The list below contains requirements for requesting FAA authorization to operate a UAS for civil under the authority of 49 U.S.C. §44807.

  1. Before filing your petition, review FAA‘s guidance to ensure your petition contains at a minimum the following necessary information, if relevant:
    • Concept of Operations
    • Operations Manual
    • Emergency Procedures
    • Checklists
    • Maintenance Manual
    • Training Program
    • Flight History (flight hours, cycles, accidents, etc.)
    • Safety Risk Analysis

    Note: A Safety Risk Analysis is also required for complex operations for any proposal that includes the following, but not limited to: flight over or in close proximity to people, flight beyond visual line of sight, operation of multiple UAS, operations from a moving vehicle, package delivery, Part 135 operations, or high speeds. Additional information about safety risk analysis is available at FAA Order 8040.4, Safety Risk Management Policy and FAA Order 8040.6 UAS Safety Risk Management Policy.

  2. Verify that all the necessary information is included, see 14 CFR § 11.81, and then file your petition for exemption on the public docket. You can also download submission instructions (text instructions) (visual aid instructions).

Instructions for Requesting FAA Authorization

Apply for a Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA), which serves as operational approval for the specific airspace in which you desire to fly. You must submit applications for a COA through the COA Application Processing System (CAPS), not the public docket.

COA applications must include:

  • An exemption number — corresponding to the Federal Register Docket ID for your petition for exemption
  • A registration number — all aircraft must be registered with FAA to be issued a COA. See Register a New sUA or other Unmanned Aircraft under Part 47.
  • The same petitioner name/company name that the exemption was issued to.

Note: FAA will issue a “blanket” COA for flights at or below 400 feet in class G airspace to all UAS operators with a Section 44807 exemption as appropriate. View a copy of this “blanket” COA (PDF), including operating conditions and limitations.

Questions About Petition for Exemption and COA

The Special Authority for Certain Unmanned Systems will expire September 30, 2023. For more information or questions about petition for exemption and COA application process contact the UAS Support Center.


You may also be interested in a certification, which is how FAA manages risk through safety assurance. It provides FAA confidence that a proposed product or operation will meet FAA safety expectations to protect the public. Certification affirms that FAA requirements have been met.

Learn more about certifications:

UAV In Agriculture


The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) in commercial farming is increasingly profitable. UAVs are used in pest control, monitor crop health, and create plans specific to a field. Additionally, UAVs help farmers get the most productivity from every square inch of a farm land.

Drone technology can make farmers more efficient by helping them locate problem spots in vast fields or ranchlands. Increased efficiency could mean lower costs for consumers and less impact on the environment if farmers used fewer chemicals because drones showed them exactly where to spray. Drones can carry different tools, including high-resolution cameras, infrared sensors and thermal sensors. Ground-penetrating radar could even measure soil conditions.

Compared to traditional fixed wing aircraft, UAVs can fly lower, slower, and hover in place for extended periods of time, all of which enhance the precision, speed, and safety of pesticide application. In fact, studies suggest that pesticide application by a UAV could be up to five times faster than traditional fixed-wing aircraft.

  1. Aerial Pesticide– The fact that UAVs can operate significantly closer to crops without causing damage, due in part to the lower thrust exerted by a UAV’s relative to larger manned aircraft, reduces the concern for drift. 

These benefits can also result in UAVs replaces uses that have traditionally required hand-application for certain pesticides, reaping farmworker safety benefits currently addressed by the Worker Protection Standards.

UAVs limit the risk of pesticides drifting to non-target areas, potentially poisoning non-resistant neighboring crops or agricultural workers. Drift can be caused by pesticides being released at improper altitudes, at inappropriate ambient temperatures, or with incorrect droplet sizes. EPA mandates specific applicator boom length and nozzle size to mitigate drift of certain pesticides. 

  1. Improve Crop Health- Agriculture drones can look at massive fields of crops to scout out where crops are too wet, too dry, too diseased or too infested with pests. 

Essentially, you make a drone map of your field and request the according analysis you need. And the goal of these analyses is to “scan” the field and determine the location and the percentage of problem areas.

There are, for example, analyses that can show you how to spot weed and diseases, identify pest-infested areas and even help you count plants and trees. Besides being drastically faster than traditional measures, drone data analyses offer exact numbers and percentages together with the precise location of healthy and problematic areas.

  1. Topography of Fields–  UAVs allow farmers and agronomists to create an overview of their fields. To let them mark points of interest on their field (such as ponds, or barns) and calculate how large certain areas on their fields are.


  1. Old FAA Laws

There are rules and limitations, among others, on operational hours and require registration for UAVs. Some, but not all, of these limitations may be waived by the FAA Administrator. The technology of UAVs is moving forward so rapidly that the laws and rules and regulations have been created, the regulations surrounding aerial pesticide application have not yet been updated to accommodate the specific benefits and limitations of UAV use. As a result, a patchwork of exemptions, waivers, and label modifications is currently required for a commercial entity to aerially apply pesticides via UAVs. Mast Reforest’s, (formerly Drone Seed) success demonstrates that the FAA is open to the use of drones as pesticide applicator.

  1. Burdensome Application Process

Many of the FAA regulations on aerial pesticide application have not been updated in almost half a century and fail to accommodate advancements in technology, especially UAVs.

However, companies can apply for waivers and exemptions from the FAA to use UAVs in a way that will benefit farming.

3. Part 107 Waivers

The FAA Administrator has the authority to waive some of the limitations placed on UAV use, so long as the Administrator determines that “the proposed [UAV] operation can safely be conducted under the terms of [the] waiver.” 

Anyone may request a waiver, but their request must include a “complete description of the proposed operation and justification that establishes that the operation can safely be conducted under the terms of the waiver.” 

The FAA says that it “will strive to review and issue decisions on waiver and authorization requests within 90 days”.

4. Part 11 Exemptions

The FAA can exempt an individual from any FAA regulation by submitting a request for a Part 11 exemption. This pathway, however, is far more burdensome than the Part 107 waiver process as it requires publication in the Federal Register and opportunity for public comment. The FAA requires that the petition be submitted at least 120 days before the petitioner anticipates the exemption is required. Additionally, Part 11 exemptions are typically only valid for 2 years. The FAA does, however, provide guidance to individuals seeking a Part 11 exemption and a searchable database called the Automated Exemption System (AES) is accessible to the public.

Part 11 Exemptions permit relief from a vast array of FAA regulations; however, this process requires full notice and comment for each applicant and requires navigating significantly more regulations. An overview of each of these three processes follows next along with an example of a UAS aerial pesticide applicator that has successfully navigated these regulatory hurdles.

5. Part 333 Exemptions 

Companies can receive a waiver of the § 107.35 limitation to multiple drone operations. However, the current complex approval process serves as a significant barrier to entry for potential competitors.

UAVs are a safer and cheaper substitute for traditional fixed- wing or helicopter/rotocopter aerial applicators. In the meantime, a combination of Section 333 exemptions, and Section 11 exemptions–depending on the size of the UAS–are a viable, albeit expensive and time-consuming, alternative to permit limited use and testing of UAVs for aerial pesticide application in the near future.

There are currently three exemption and waiver processes that a UAV operator would need to navigate to aerially dispense pesticides, depending on the type of UAV used. For UAVs over 55 lbs., a Section 333 exemption is required. This application is more open-ended, has fewer limitations, but is more expensive and takes longer to obtain.


Having an agricultural UAV drone program far outweighs the cost and hassle of setting it up. The Dunaway Law Group can help you remove the stress and confusion of setting up a UAV agricultural program. To learn more, contact us by phone at 480-702-1608 or message us HERE.

The Dunaway Law Group provides this information as a service to clients and other friends for educational purposes only. It should not be construed or relied on as legal advice and does not create a lawyer-client or attorney-prospective client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking advice from professional advisers. Additionally, this Firm limits its practice to the states of Arizona and New York.

FAA Section 333 Repealed

FAA Section 333 was replaced and repealed by 49 U.S.C. Section 44807.

The Small UAS Rule (14 CFR Part 107) is only applicable to unmanned aircraft (drones) that weigh less than 55 pounds at takeoff. Not only is there a max weight, but there’s also a limitation to what rules can be waived under Part 107. To fly an unmanned aircraft that exceeds the maximum weight limit of Part 107 or your mission includes a non-waiverable rule, you may apply for an exemption in accordance with 14 CFR Part 11 and the Congressional authority granted in Special Authority for Certain Unmanned Systems, 49 U.S.C. §44807.

49 U.S.C. § 44807 grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to use a risk-based approach to determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system (NAS) on a case-by-case basis. This grants UAS operators safe and legal entry into the NAS, thus improving safety. We anticipate this activity will result in significant economic benefits. The FAA Administrator has identified this as a high priority project to address demand for civil operation of drones for commercial purposes.

The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act (P. L. 115-254) repealed Section 333 and replaced it with Section 44807.

Section 333 exemption was what drone pilots used to operate drones commercially from 2014 to 2016. It’s a process that no longer exists and is no longer required for the commercial operation of drones.

In August 2016, the FAA’s new Part 107 regulatory framework went into effect to replace the Section 333 exemption.

If it’s total takeoff weight is more than 55lbs. then it requires a 49 U.S.C. 44807.

List of Section 333 Authorizations granted.

UAS Exemptions Spraying Chemicals

49 C.F.R. 175.9(b)(1), Special Aircraft Operations; Exceptions; Agricultural Operations. The Petitioner requests an exemption from the requirement in 175.9 that aircraft be certificated in order to be excluded from the prohibition on carrying hazardous materials because the Petitioner’ UAS is not “an aircraft certified for [agricultural] use.”

Rules the FAA wants you to follow. https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/petition#:~:text=A%20petition%20for%20rulemaking%20is,(14%20CFR%20Part%2011).

See also: https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/petition#exemptions