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News & Notes

Inside the Numbers: Part 107 Waiver Denials

Which waiver applications don’t stand a chance?

July 25, 2017

The FAA’s Part 107 waiver process was designed to streamline the process for getting approval to fly your drone in places and ways not normally allowed. But for drone pilots who have had their applications denied, the process can be mysterious and frustrating. We’ve reviewed almost a full year’s worth of FAA denials — here’s what we’ve learned about what it takes to get your waiver approved.

A quick recap

When the FAA announced its new Part 107 framework for commercial drone operation last year, many drone users immediately embraced the changes. One of the perks of Part 107 is its flexibility of allowing for waiver applications. Various operational restrictions can be waived, including flying from moving vehicles, flying extended or beyond visual line of sight (EVLOS and BLVOS), and flying at night.


The FAA maintains a public database of all approved Part 107 waivers. While useful, the database doesn’t include the denied waivers — providing an incomplete picture of the current Part 107 landscape.

Drone360 filed an FOIA request through the FAA to access a sampling of denied Part 107 waiver applications. We received 1,656 unique waiver denials, submitted over the span of 247 days (that’s roughly seven applications a day).
From a sampling of 1,656 denied waiver applications and 2,466 identifiable operational requests, waivers for night operations were by far the most popular. 63% of denied applications included a request to operate at night.
FAA/Venngage
Most popular

Anyone who has looked through the public Part 107 database knows that a huge portion of the FAA’s approved waivers are for the commercial operation of drones after civil twilight. Nearly 90% of approved Part 107 waivers are for night flights.

Waiver applications for night operations are also a major portion of the denials as well: 63% of denied applications included a request to operate at night.

This is a standout instance, because this particular operational requirement is viewed as one of the few “attainable” Part 107 waivers for the average commercial operator. Despite online community efforts to share successful boilerplate application templates for night waivers, many commercial drone users still struggle to receive a waiver for night operations.

Most and least likely

The most difficult waiver to receive approval for is the operation of drones over people. With over 510 applications in our sampling, this is the second most requested waiver. Waivers for operations over people have an abysmally low chance of being approved. Only four have been approved — which means, based on the 510 denials, that you have a roughly 0.8% chance of having your application approved. Not great.

The extremely low approval rate for operations over people shows the FAA is still quite wary to allow commercial operators to fly over people — which doesn’t bode well for the long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the same subject. Despite some promising research, the FAA still views drone flights over people as too risky.

Meanwhile, night waivers are overwhelmingly the most frequently applied for Part 107 waiver. Much of that demand is likely driven by the fact that night waivers are approved roughly half of the time. This handily makes night waivers the most likely waiver application to be approved by the FAA.
95.2% of waiver applications were denied due to incomplete information.
Reasons for denial

In our data, the FAA only presents two rationales for Part 107 waiver denials: “incomplete information” and “insufficient safety case.” Waiver applicants typically receive more detailed denial letters, but those are issued on an individualized basis.

According to the FAA data, 4.8% of waiver applications were denied based on an insufficient safety case. The other 95.2% were denied due to incomplete information in the application.

Last October, the FAA said that in the process of reviewing Part 107 waivers, it had “found that many applications have incorrect or incomplete information.” In the months since, it appears as though an overwhelming amount of applications still lack the requisite information for approval.


Processing times

Commercial drone operators familiar with the waiver process are also familiar with the long wait times to hear back on their applications. Based on our sampling, average wait times vary between one to two months, with some dramatic outliers. One night waiver request was processed in only two weeks.

For more complex waivers or applications with more than one waiver request, processing can easily take three months or more — one multiple-waiver application took the FAA nearly nine months to process and deny.

Nearly half of the denied applications in our sampling were multi-waiver requests. To hasten the processing time and improve chances of FAA approval, it’s best to submit waivers individually.

All things considered, the Part 107 waiver process remains a sore spot for many commercial drone operators, and the denials show why. But above all, the best advice to have your waiver is approved is this:

Featured image: Pixabay/Edar