What if the Rule Doesn’t Fit? A quick primer on exemptions, waivers, deviations, and authorizations

by Paul Greer, FAA Airworthiness Law Branch

(Editor’s Note: For the full version of this article, please see the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of FAA Safety Briefing)

Crafting regulations that apply to every person in every possible situation is not an easy task. The FAA recognizes that sometimes the regulations may not fit every particular circumstance. That’s why the agency has a number of processes that may be able to provide some relief when specific regulatory requirements do not necessarily fit your situation.


The primary regulatory process the FAA uses to provide relief is described in part 11 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR). Titled General Rulemaking Procedures, part 11 contains some important provisions that address petitions for exemption.

A petition for exemption is basically a request for relief from the requirements of an FAA regulation. How do you get an exemption? First, read part 11 carefully and follow all the procedures. The petition must include:

  • Name and contact information
  • The specific regulation or regulations from which you seek relief
  • What kind of relief you want, and the reason you want the relief
  • Why granting your exemption would be in the public interest
  • Why granting your exemption would not adversely affect safety, or how an equivalent level of safety would be provided

You will also need to provide a short summary of your request that the FAA can publish in the Federal Register, along with any additional information, views, or arguments available to support your request.

Before submitting a petition, be certain the regulation from which you seek relief applies to you or the person on whose behalf you are submitting the petition. Your petition should not ask the FAA to change a rule that applies to a broad range of people because that makes it a petition for rulemaking. Also, be sure you include the right regulation(s). That sounds basic, but petitioners often fail to consider all the regulations that cover the action(s) they wish to undertake.

Other Forms of Relief

You should know that there are other ways to obtain relief. The FAA can, for example, issue a waiver, deviation, or letter of authorization. Rules and FAA guidance outline the procedures for granting these forms of relief. Typically, a waiver, deviation, or authorization is for a specific operation and often for a short period of time. Because waivers, deviations, and authorizations do not require demonstrating that a request for relief is “in the public interest,” it is often easier to obtain relief using these procedures than through the more complex exemption process. If these types of relief are not available or applicable to your situation, you will need to follow the more formal exemption process.

Help is a Mouse Click Away

The Internet has eased the petitioner’s path considerably. The FAA provides instructions for submitting a petition for exemption at: www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/petition. You can send your petition electronically via www.regulations.gov or by mail to: U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Operations, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC, 20590. You should submit your petition at least 120 days prior to the date you need relief. If granting your petition would set a precedent, the FAA will normally publish it for comment in the Federal Register.

The FAA maintains a searchable database of all exemptions on which it has taken action at: http://aes.faa.gov. A quick records search will show you how the FAA responded to previous petitions, and if the agency acted on a petition similar to yours. Since the FAA treats similarly situated parties equally, you may want to use this database to look at the FAA’s response to petitions similar to yours. You can see whether the petition was granted or denied, review a summary of the information provided by the petitioner, read the FAA’s analysis, and learn what conditions or limitations the agency imposed if the exemption was granted.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2016 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.

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FAA Safety Team


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