Disney Petition for Section 333 Exemption grant

There’s a lot to digest here, but here’s the basics. Disney (Disneyland, Disneyworld) wants to get a Section 333 exemption to allow them to fly up to 50 drones in a nightly aerial performance. On the plus side, Disney would bring more public acceptance of drones and promote safety. They want to break a lot of the restrictions that all Section 333 grant letter operators follow. One operator for up to 50 coordinated drones, a remote observer network using two-way radios to the operator and only a 100 ft buffer to non-participants.

What could go wrong?

The comments to the Disney petition are mostly negative. Mostly because of the Disney TFR, more on that later, and the others are opposed to granting Disney more privileges that all others are specifically prohibited from, such as night flight. The TFR is a sore point for California and Florida pilots. After 9/11 Senator Disney (Ted Stevens) added 65 little-noticed, highly technical words directing the FAA to create the Disney TFR’s tucked into a foot-thick, 3,000-page spending bill approved by Congress. Not one of those words was “Disney”.  It should be noted that the TSA, Homeland Security nor the FAA did not want the TFR.  For more history see: How the Disney TFR’s got started

I would like to see Disney get the approvals they seek for the technical boundaries they can push, but not until the Disney TFR’s are completely removed. In fact, the wording of the Disney TFR law passed by Congress specifically prohibits the FAA from exempting any operations in the TFRs unless an operational necessity exists. Operational necessity means a Med Flight helicopter may obtain ATC permission to operate inside the TFR. A sheriff’s helicopter may ask ATC for permission to follow a suspect car through the TFR. It’s going to be hard to say that nightly entertainment is an operational necessity.

If the FAA says yes to the Exemption but no to the operations in the TFR, my bet would be that Disney will scrap the plans before the agreeing to remove the TFR.


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