History of Section 44807
Originally this provision was created under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and was listed as Section 333. The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 extended the powers to be used also for beyond line of sight flying as well. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 took this provision and codified it under 49 USC 44807.
How is Section 44807 Used?
Drones have all sorts of legal issues in that they cannot easily comply with certain regulations. One of them is 14 CFR 91.7. Many of the drones do not have airworthiness certificates and they are expensive and time consuming to obtain by manufacturers or drone users.
One mechanism is to have a 44807 determination by the Secretary of the Department of Transportation that the particular aircraft does NOT need an airworthiness certificate. Think of it like a reverse airworthiness certificate. It accomplishes the same end.
This is how drones originally started flying back in October 2014. The first group of drone companies obtained an exemption with a Section 333 (what 44807 used to be listed under) determination so they were legal to fly. The terms section 333 exemption was used to describe this methodology. It’s really just an exemption with this special DOT determination baked into it.
Actual Text of Section 44807
(a) In General.-Notwithstanding any other requirement of this chapter, the Secretary of Transportation shall use a risk-based approach to determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system notwithstanding completion of the comprehensive plan and rulemaking required by section 44802 or the guidance required by section 44806.
(b) Assessment of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.-In making the determination under subsection (a), the Secretary shall determine, at a minimum-
(1) which types of unmanned aircraft systems, if any, as a result of their size, weight, speed, operational capability, proximity to airports and populated areas, operation over people, and operation within or beyond the visual line of sight, or operation during the day or night, do not create a hazard to users of the national airspace system or the public; and
(2) whether a certificate under section 44703 or section 44704 of this title, or a certificate of waiver or certificate of authorization, is required for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems identified under paragraph (1) of this subsection.
(c) Requirements for Safe Operation.-If the Secretary determines under this section that certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system, the Secretary shall establish requirements for the safe operation of such aircraft systems in the national airspace system, including operation related to research, development, and testing of proprietary systems.
(d) Sunset.-The authority under this section for the Secretary to determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system terminates effective September 30, 2023.