FAA Part 107 Waiver (COW)– What Drone Pilots Need to Know


The FAA understands that not everything will fall neatly into the set of the FAA Part 107 regulations. Sometimes things fall outside of the “box,” but still need to be made safe and legal. The FAA builds into regulations what is called “regulatory flexibility” which can be understood as legal “wiggle room.” There are multiple ways that regulatory flexibility can happen in the regulations: waivers, authorizations, deviations, and exemptions. If the particular regulation you are interested in cannot be resolved by waiver, authorization, or deviation, then the exemption process is all that is left. Since September 2014 until June 21, 2016, the exemption and waiver process was what was being legally used to get drones airborne.

The FAA has wisely built into Part 107 a specific section that lists out what regulations are specifically waivable. An individual applies to the FAA for a certificate of waiver. Many in the industry describe this by using the term COA. This is because the form that is used to apply for a waiver is for a certificate of waiver or authorization. You aren’t getting an authorization, but a waiver so COW would be the most legally correct term – but don’t have a cow over the proper legal term. An unmanned aircraft waiver typically lasts for 4 years and will need to be renewed.

Section 107.205 lists out specifically what regulations are waivable. Below are the waivable regulations and examples of operations that would need this type of waiver.  If you are interested in any type of operation in either list below, please contact me.

The FAA Part 107 Regulations That Can Be Waived:

  • 107.25 – Operation from a moving vehicle, boat, or aircraft. Here are operations that will need a waiver from this regulation: 
    • Operating a drone from a moving aircraft.
    • Powerline inspection in populated areas.
    • Pipeline inspection in populated areas.
    • Cinematography or car commercials for TV in populated areas.
  • 107.29 – Daylight only operations. (Article on How to Fly Your Drone at Night or Civil Twilight). Here are operations that will need this waiver:
    • Search and rescue at night
    • Inspecting roofs using a FLIR camera to spot water damage.
    • Firefighting or law enforcement at night.
  • 107.31 – Visual line of sight aircraft operation. Here are operations that will need this waiver:
    • Beyond visual line of sight operations for mapping, agriculture, search and rescue (but none of these are package delivery of another person’s property.)
    • FPV racing commercially WITHOUT a visual observer.
  • 107.33 – Visual observer.
  • 107.35 – Operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems. Here are operations that will need this waiver:
    • The pilot in command wants to fly two or more drones at the same time.
    • Swarming drones for entertainment like Intel and Disney are interested in.
  • 107.37(a) – Yielding the right of way.
  • 107.39 – Operation over people. Here are operations that will need this waiver:
    • News over crowds
    • Law enforcement monitoring large crowds.
    • Filming concerts or demonstrations.
  • 107.41 – Operation in certain airspace. Here are operations that will need this waiver:
    • Flying in Class B, C, D, or E airspace which is almost always near an airport. Yes, you have to have a COW to operate in these airspaces. I explain this in my FAA Part 107 FAQ page.
  • 107.51 – Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft. Here are operations that will need this waiver:
    • Flying higher than 400ft.
    • Faster than 100MPH
    • Flying in less than 3 statute miles of visibility
    • Flying within 500 ft. below or 2,000 ft. horizontally of clouds.

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Not All Of The Part 107 Regulations Can Be Waived.

Here is a list of things that CANNOT be waived under 107:

  • Operations from a moving aircraft, vehicle, or boat while carrying property of another on the drone for compensation or hire.
    • Amazon and Google package delivery
  • Beyond visual line of sight aircraft operations carrying property of another on the drone for compensation or hire.
    • Amazon and Google package delivery
  • 55 pounds and heavier operations
    • Crop dusting with the Yamaha R-Max
    • Closed-set cinematography using large cameras or dual cameras for stereo filming.
  • Carrying hazardous material.
    • Carrying spare LIPO batteries to other operators. LIPOs NOT in the drone are considered hazardous material.
    • Fireworks
  • Autonomous Operations– No Part 107 remote pilot in the loop.

There are other ways of getting operations in the second list legal. Just because you are in this list doesn’t mean that it is “game over.” Time until approval and associated costs with obtaining the approval are the big two concerns with obtaining approvals in the 2nd list. Some of the operations will be eligible and others not for approval under the Section 333 exemption.

The FAA wants you to apply to get these waivers at least 90 days before you need them. As we saw from the whole Section 333 exemption situation, don’t count on 90 days. Apply well in advance of when you think you will need the waiver.

I hope these two lists help you differentiate between when you can operate purely under Part 107 and when you’ll need to seek approval.

This post is part of an overall Part 107 blog series and you may enjoy a few of these other Part 107 blog posts.

Jonathan Rupprecht

Mr. Rupprecht is an aviation attorney who focuses on drones. Read more about his background as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University grad, and legal author. He has had media appearances on Forbes, Newsweek, Politico, NPR, Marketwatch, The Independent, Motherboard, and other sources. Feel free to send Jonathan a message here.