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FAA Requirements for Authority to Operate UAS

The following is an interpretation of the FAA regulations as of September 1, 2016, and is intended to assist potential UAS operators with identifying the appropriate FAA classification for operating a UAS.

It is the responsibility of the requestor/operator to be aware of any and all FAA, state, local and University requirements related to operating UAS.

Under FAA rules and regulations, there are essentially three ways in which an individual can lawfully operate a UAS in connection with (or as part of) official University associated activities:

First, as a qualified governmental entity, the University can apply to the FAA for a public aircraft (or public) Certificate of Authorization (“COA”). A public COA allows a UAS to be operated for a purely non-commercial activity or purpose. The activities regarded by the FAA as being purely non-commercial in nature, however, have been fairly limited.

Second, if the UAS operation involves a commercial purpose or activity, the University can apply for a civil aircraft (or commercial) COA. Any entity is eligible to apply for a commercial COA. A commercial COA application is frequently accompanied by (filed in conjunction with) a Section 333 Petition for Exemption.

Third, one can operate a UAS as a hobbyist or recreational user. Hobbyists and recreational users do not need a COA to operate a UAS. Their operation of UAS is subject to and controlled by the so-called Model Aircraft (Section 336) Rules.

Important Considerations

I. CSU campuses and individuals operating in their CSU employment capacity do not qualify as hobbyists or recreational users. However, that is not necessarily the case with students. The use of UAS by students as a component of their science, technology and aviation-related educational curricula, or other coursework such as television and film production or the arts, falls within the definition of a hobby or recreational use. Consequently, that category of students may, without formal FAA approval, operate a UAS in compliance with and under the Model Aircraft Rules.

This proposition does not apply to faculty members. Faculty members cannot - even as part of a class or course - operate a UAS under the hobbyist or recreational user rule. Faculty members may provide only de minimis or limited operational assistance to students.

II. However, the FAA has recently adopted new rules for the operation of small UAS. The new rules went into effect on August 29, 2016, and are sometimes referred to as “PART 107.

These new rules allow UAS to be operated for a variety of commercial purposes without obtaining formal FAA approval. A small UAS is one that weighs less than 55 lbs./25 kgs. The UAS can even carry an external load or transport items, provided the load/item is securely attached, does not raise any operational or safety issue, and does not cause the UAS to exceed a total weight of 55 lbs. See section IV, below, for more information on operation of small UAS under Part 107.

The key requirement under Part 107 is that the individual operating the UAS must either (i) have a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating, or (ii) be under the direct supervision of a person who holds such a certificate. The certified remote pilot in command is held responsible for (a) conducting a preflight check and inspection of the UAS to ensure it can be safely operated; (b) confirming that all applicable registration requirements are met; (c) maintaining all required documentation and records; and, (d) timely reporting to the FAA any incident that involves a more than trivial injury, a loss of consciousness, or property damage of $500 or more.

III. Hobbyist/Recreational Use Regulations


IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law relating to the incorporation of unmanned aircraft systems into Federal Aviation Administration plans and policies, including this subtitle, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if—

  • the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;
  • the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;
  • the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;
  • the aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and
  • when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)).

STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the national airspace system.

MODEL AIRCRAFT DEFINED.  In this section, the term ‘‘model aircraft’’ means an unmanned aircraft that is:

  • capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; flown within visual line-of-sight of the person operating the aircraft; and
  • flown for hobby or recreational purpose

IV. Operational limitations of UAS under Part 107:

  • Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg).
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the UAS must remain within VLOS of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS. Alternatively, the UAS must remain within VLOS of the visual observer.
  • At all times the small UAS must remain close enough to the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS for those people to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
  • Small UAS may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.
  • Daylight-only operations, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
  • Must yield right of way to other aircraft.
  • May use visual observer (VO) but not required.
  • First-person view camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid” requirement but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.
  • Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).
  • Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL) or, if higher than 400 feet AGL, remain within 400 feet of a structure.
  • Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.
  • Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission.
  • Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission.
  • No person may act as a remote pilot in command or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
  • No operations from a moving aircraft.
  • No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.
  • No careless or reckless operations.
  • No carriage of hazardous materials.
  • Requires preflight inspection by the remote pilot in command.
  • A person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.
  • Foreign-registered small UAS are allowed to operate under part 107 if they satisfy the requirements of part 375.
  • External load operations are allowed if the object being carried by the UAS is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.
  • Transportation of property for compensation or hire allowed provided that
  • No carriage of ha
    • The aircraft, including its attached systems, payload and cargo weigh less than 55 pounds total;
    • The flight is conducted within visual line of sight and not from a moving vehicle or aircraft; and
    • The flight occurs wholly within the bounds of a State and does not involve transport between (1) Hawaii and another place in Hawaii through airspace outside Hawaii; (2) the District of Columbia and another place in the District of Columbia; or (3) a territory or possession of the United States and another place in the same territory or possession.

      See for more details.

V. As previously described, the following University requirements apply (in addition to FAA operational regulations):

  • The maximum operational altitude is 400 feet above ground level. Operation at altitudes above 400 feet from ground level is prohibited, even if operating from the top of a structure.
  • UAS may not be operated in inclement weather that may affect the UAS’s ability to function or handle properly
  • UAS may not be operated over or near any public safety personnel during emergencies or when responding to calls
  • UAS may not be operated for the unauthorized recording/videoing of individuals, performances, or University events, or for any unlawful purpose

Students engaged in educational use can operate UAS either as hobbyists or recreational users, or under Part 107. “Educational use” does not include operating the UAS in conjunction with faculty research activities, or as part of a class where the purpose of the class is UAS flight instruction. Those operations would fall outside the definition of “educational use,” and would need to be conducted under Part 107.

Faculty members who wish to play a more active and direct role in operating UAS as part of class, course or curriculum can do so in accordance with and under Part 107.

FAA requirements for operation under a Public Use Certificate of Authorization or a Civil Use (Commercial) Certificate of Authorization are dependent upon the approval granted by the FAA.

Drone flying above the trees
Flight Operation Proposal Application

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