Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) present opportunities for the support and expansion of the research, educational and outreach missions of the university. Because the operation of UAS is subject to federal and state law and may raise ethical issues, the UAS Committee has been established to review proposed uses of UAS by university faculty, staff, students or third parties (including, but not limited to, consultants or contractors) acting on behalf of the university, and to provide ongoing review of approved UAS use, in order to ensure the safe and legal operation of UAS. The UAS Committee also serves as a resource for faculty, staff and students in need of guidance regarding UAS use and facilitates communication between university programs using UAS. In addition to being approved by the UAS Committee, the drone must be registered with the FAA and have approval from the FAA to fly.
The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has jurisdiction over and regulates the operation of aircraft, including UAS, in the navigable airspace of the United States. The FAA distinguishes between “public aircraft,” which may include UAS owned by or used only for the United States government or owned and operated or exclusively leased by the government of a state, the District of Columbia, or a territory or possession of the U. S. or a political subdivision, 49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(41), and civil aircraft, which are any aircraft except public aircraft, 49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(16). See the Decision Flow Chart for Aircraft Operations. Federal regulation requires that all UAS be registered with the FAA. Those aircraft weighing less than 55 lbs fully loaded, may be registered online. To register your University of Idaho owned UAS, please contact [email protected].
Those uses of UAS that do not meet the definition noted below of governmental function or have a “commercial purpose” require authorization from the FAA for civil operations. “Commercial purpose” means “the transportation of persons or property for compensation or hire.” 49 U.S.C. § 40125(a)(1). The FAA also indicates that any use of a UAS “in furtherance of a business, or incidental to a person’s business” falls outside the scope of the special rule for model aircraft (Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012). As of August 29th, 2016, Section 107 will be the primary method for gaining FAA approval for flying civil UAS.
Under section 107, the person operating the small UAS must either hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be under the direct supervision of a person who does. The aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds fully loaded. When flown within five miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft must provide the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower with prior notice of operation. The aircraft will be flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.
Most official uses of UAS by university employees will qualify as a civil operation.
The FAA also allows for additional methods of gaining FAA approval for flying civil (nongovernmental) UAS:
Petition for Exemption under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Sec. 333), with a civil certificate of waiver or authorization (COA) for civil aircraft, to perform commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments.
Obtain a Special Airworthiness Certificate — Experimental Category (SAC-EC) for civil aircraft to perform research and development, crew training and market surveys. For-hire operations are prohibited.
Obtain a UAS type and airworthiness certificate in the Restricted Category (14 CFR § 21.25(a)(2) and § 21.185) for a special purpose or type certificate for production of the UAS under 14 CFR § 21.25(a)(1) or § 21.17.
These methods require additional consideration. Please contact the compliance coordinator at 111-0174 or [email protected] if you need to seek FAA approval through a method other than section 107.
Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 establishes the requirements for operation of “model aircraft.” A “model aircraft” is defined, under Section 336(c), as “an unmanned aircraft” that is “(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.” The FAA has indicated in their May 4th, 2016 memorandum on the Education Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) that a “student may conduct model aircraft operations in accordance with section 336 of the FMRA in furtherance of his or her aviation-related education at an accredited educational institution.” Additionally, the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds fully loaded. When flown within five miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower with prior notice of operation. The aircraft will be flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.
Because the university is a state “governmental instrumentality for the dissemination of knowledge and learning,” UAS owned and operated or leased exclusively by the university may qualify as public aircraft. Prior to operation of such UAS, however, the university must apply for and obtain a certificate of authorization or waiver (COA) that covers the operation. Even if a UAS is owned and operated or leased exclusively to the university, it only qualifies as a public aircraft, and its use a public aircraft operation eligible for coverage under a COA, if the use is considered by the FAA to be a “governmental function” (“an activity undertaken by a government, such as national defense, intelligence missions, firefighting, search and rescue, law enforcement [including transport of prisoners, detainees, and illegal aliens], aeronautical research, or biological or geological resource management.”) 49 U.S.C. § 40125(a)(2).
Not all university activities fall within the definition of “governmental function.” The FAA has, for example, expressly excluded education from this definition, declaring that a “state may… choose to consider education at any level a governmental function for its own purposes, but a state may not expand on its own initiative the list of governmental functions in § 40125(a)(2) to include any activity it chooses as a basis for public aircraft operation.” July 3, 2014 Memorandum re: Operation of UAS as Public Aircraft for Educational Purposes. The FAA has also cautioned that “the governmental functions listed in the statute [should] not be artificially manipulated in meaning so that they include all desired …. activities.”
July 3, 2014 Memorandum re: Clarification of June 13, 2014 Interpretation on Research Using UAS.
With respect to sponsored research, the FAA has stated that “[a] state university with a UAS public aircraft COA could use its COA for  research [fulfilling a governmental function] if such research is the state’s intended mission.” June 13, 2014 Interpretation on UAS Operations by Public Universities for Aeronautical Research. Sponsored research involving UAS may be considered to have a “commercial purpose,” subject it to requirements for civil operation of UAS, unless “the results of the research belong to the state (university)” and “the [UAS used in the] research does not carry the property of another (including the entity funding the grant).” Id.
News & Announcements
Visit the Federal Aviation Administration for the latest information on UAS issues, grants, and legal interpretations: