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FAA Regulations for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Drones


Federal Aviation AdministrationFor more than five decades, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has compiled a proven track record of introducing new technology and aircraft safely into the National Airspace System (NAS). 

Most recently, the agency has been working to ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the NAS. The FAA's sole mission and authority as it focuses on the integration of unmanned aircraft systems is safety.  

Already, the agency has achieved the first unmanned aircraft systems milestone included in the 2012 FAA reauthorization – streamlining the process for public agencies to safely fly UAS in the nation’s airspace. 

Federal, state and local government entities must obtain an FAA Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) before flying UAS in the NAS.  Now, under the FAA Reauthorization bill, the agency must to find a way to expedite that COA process within 90 days of enactment, which is May 14, 2012.


The COA Process

The FAA has been working with its government partners to streamline COA procedures as part of the effort to ensure UAS are safely integrated into the NAS.  In 2009, the FAA, NASA and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security formed a UAS Executive Committee, or “ExCom” to address UAS integration issues. The ExCom established a working group that developed suggestions to expedite the COA process and increase transparency into those activities.

The FAA implemented recommendations, including establishing metrics for tracking COAs throughout the process and improving the on-time rate for granting an authorization.

The agency also developed an automated, web-based process to streamline steps and ensure a COA application is complete and ready for review. The agency already has expedited procedures in place to grant one-time COAs for time-sensitive emergency missions such as disaster relief and humanitarian efforts.  How to obtain your COA!

Starting on March 29, 2012 the FAA introduced another improvement by changing the length of authorization from the current 12-month period to 24 months.

If the FAA disapproves a COA, the agency quickly addresses questions from the applicant and tries to provide alternative solutions that will lead to approval.

Frequently Asked Question about the COA.


First Responders

Another part of the reauthorization bill directed the FAA to “allow a government public safety agency to operate unmanned aircraft weighing 4.4 pounds or less” under certain restrictions. The bill further specifies these UAS must be flown within the line of sight of the operator, less than 400 feet above the ground, during daylight conditions, inside Class G (uncontrolled) airspace and more than five miles from any airport or other location with aviation activities.

The FAA and the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice have established an agreement that meets the congressional mandate. Initially, law enforcement organizations will receive a COA for training and performance evaluation. When the organization has shown proficiency in flying its UAS, it will receive an operational COA. The agreement also expands the allowable UAS weight up to 25 pounds.


a New Office for New Technology

The FAA continues to move aggressively toward the safe, timely and efficient integration of UAS into the nation’s air transportation system. In March 2012, the agency created a new UAS Integration office, headed by a single executive, which brings together specialists from the aviation safety and air traffic organizations. The office serves as the FAA’s one-stop portal for all matters related to civil and public use of unmanned aircraft systems in U.S. airspace.


Upcoming UAS Activities 

Work for several other important milestones is underway in 2012. The FAA received more than 200 comments after asking for public input on the process for selecting six UAS test sites mandated by Congress. In July, the agency expects to request proposals to manage the test sites in order to make the selections in December. These sites are important because they will provide valuable data to us safely integrate UAS into the nation's airspace by 2015 as required by the 2012 FAA reauthorization.

And later this year, the FAA expects to release a proposed rule that will establish policies, procedures and standards for a wide spectrum of users in the small UAS community. This class of UAS will likely experience the greatest near-term growth in civil and commercial operations because of their versatility and relatively low initial cost and operating expenses.



COA is an authorization issued by the Air Traffic Organization to a public operator for a specific UA activity. After a complete application is submitted, FAA conducts a comprehensive operational and technical review. If necessary, provisions or limitations may be imposed as part of the approval to ensure the UA can operate safely with other airspace users. In most cases, FAA will provide a formal response within 60 days from the time a completed application is submitted.

To better support the needs of our customers, FAA deployed a web-based application system. The UAS COA Online System provides applicants with an electronic method of requesting a COA. Applicants will need to obtain an account in order to access the online system.

Please email the FAA/UAS office at 9-AJR-36-UAS@faa.gov with any questions or for more information regarding Certificate of Waivers or Authorizations.

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  • What is the difference between an Unmanned Aircraft (UA), a Remotely Operated Aircraft (ROA), and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)?

    ROA and UAV were terms previously used to identify unmanned aircraft. Currently the FAA and most of the international community uses the term “UAS.”

  • Can a civilian company operate an UAS as part of a business?

    Currently, civilian companies may not operate a UAS as part of a business without obtaining a Special Airworthiness Certificate - Experimental Category (SAC-EC). However, this SAC-EC is very limited in scope of operational use. Contact FAA for details or see FAA Order 8130.34.

  • Who can receive a COA to fly a UA in the NAS?

    Only public agencies operating an unmanned aircraft.

  • What is a “Public Agency?”

    Any agency that operates a public aircraft (14 CFR Part 1.1). If you receive funding from the federal government at some level, you are probably a “Public Agency.” a public agency can never operate under the guidelines of Advisory Circular 91-57 (Model Aircraft Operating Standards).

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591
1-866-TELL-FAA

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Help Us Protect The Freedom To Fly UAVs
FAQ About Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
FAA Know Before You Fly Video
FAA Grants Section 333 Exemptions
FAA Limitations on Hobbyist
FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012
FAA UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
FAA Regulations for UAV
FAA Section 333 COA Processing
FAA Section 333 Special Rules For UAVs
FAA Special Airworthiness Certification
FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions
FAA UAS Guidance for Law Enforcement
FAA UAS Research Test Sites
FAA UAS Test Site Selection



 


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