Farmer Drone Rules

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drone hexcopter flying over field
Waiting for lift-off. Cathy Isom explains some of the new rules keeping the latest technology for the farm on the ground. Farmers interested in using unmanned aircraft systems, also known as UAS, or drones, will have to wait a little longer despite the Federal Aviation Administration recent announcement of web-based aircraft registration for drone technology.

Drone Rules

From FAA website

Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are inherently different from manned aircraft. Introducing UAS into the nation’s airspace is challenging for both the FAA and aviation community, because the U.S. has the busiest, most complex airspace in the world. The FAA is taking an incremental approach to safe UAS integration.

What Can I Do with my Model Aircraft?

UAS come in a variety of shapes and sizes and serve diverse purposes. Regardless of size, the responsibility to fly safely applies equally to manned and unmanned aircraft operations. The FAA is partnering with several industry associations to promote safe and responsible use of unmanned aircraft. Read more about the Know Before You Fly educational campaign.

Different Types of UAS Operations

Public Operations (Governmental) View the full article

Public Aircraft Operations are limited by federal statue to certain government operations within U.S. airspace. Title 49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(41) provides the definition of “Public Aircraft” and § 40125 provides the qualifications for public aircraft status. Whether an operation qualifies as a public aircraft operation is determined on a flight-by-flight basis, under the terms of the statute. The considerations when making this determination are aircraft ownership, the operator, the purpose of the flight, and the persons on board the aircraft.

Decision Flow Charts for Public Aircraft Operations (PDF)

Public COAs

For public aircraft operations, the FAA issues a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that permits public agencies and organizations to operate a particular aircraft, for a particular purpose, in a particular area. The COA allows an operator to use a defined block of airspace and includes special safety provisions unique to the proposed operation. COAs usually are issued for a specific period – up to two years in many cases.

The FAA works with these organizations to develop conditions and limitations for UAS operations to ensure they do not jeopardize the safety of other aviation operations. The objective is to issue a COA with parameters that ensure a level of safety equivalent to manned aircraft. Usually, this entails making sure that the UAS does not operate in a populated area and that the aircraft is observed, either by someone in a manned aircraft or someone on the ground to ensure separation from other aircraft in accordance with right-of-way rules. Common public uses today include law enforcement, firefighting, border patrol, disaster relief, search and rescue, military training, and other government operational missions.

The FAA manages public aircraft COAs through its COA Online system. Before the FAA grants an agency access to COA Online, the agency (or proponent) will be asked to provide the FAA with a “declaration letter” from the city, county, or state attorney’s office assuring the FAA that the proponent is recognized as a political subdivision of the government of the State under Title 49 of the United Stated Code (USC) section (§) 40102(a)(41)(c) or (d) and that the proponent will operate its unmanned aircraft in accordance with 49 USC. § 40125(b) (not for commercial purposes). An agency’s accountable executive cannot self-certify their agency is a “public” agency.

The typical COA application approval process is completed within 60 business days of receipt, provided there are no submittal errors, missing information, or safety or airspace issues. Please email the FAA/UAS Integration Office at to get started.

Civil Operations (Non-Governmental) View the full article

Any operation that does not meet the statutory criteria for a public aircraft operationis considered a civil aircraft operation and must be conducted in accordance with all FAA regulations applicable to the operation.

There are presently two methods of gaining FAA authorization to fly civil (non-governmental) UAS:

  1. Section 333 Exemption – a grant of exemption in accordance with Section 333 AND a civil Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA); this process may be used to perform commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments. Instructions for filing a petition for exemption are available here.
  2. Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC) – applicants must be able to describe how their system is designed, constructed, and manufactured, including engineering processes, software development and control, configuration management, and quality assurance procedures used, along with how and where they intend to fly.
    1. SAC in the experimental category – may be used for civil aircraft to perform research and development, crew training, and market surveys; however, carrying persons or property for compensation or hire is prohibited. FAA Order 8130.34 is used by FAA inspectors to issue experimental airworthiness certificates and special flight permits to UAS. For more information, please contact the Airworthiness Certification Service, AIR-113, at 202-267-1575.If the FAA determines the project does not present an unreasonable safety risk, the local FAA Manufacturing Inspection District Office will issue a Special Airworthiness Certificate in the Experimental Category with operating limitations applicable to the particular UAS.
    2. A UAS type and airworthiness certificate in the Restricted Category (14 CFR § 21.25(a)(2) and § 21.185) for a special purpose or a type certificate for production of the UAS under 14 CFR § 21.25(a)(1) or § 21.17. For more information, please contact the Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office at 562-627-5200.

Model Aircraft Operations View the full article

Model aircraft operations are for hobby or recreational purposes only.

The FAA has partnered with several industry associations to promote Know Before You Fly, a campaign to educate the public about using unmanned aircraft safely and responsibly. Individuals flying for hobby or recreation are strongly encouraged to follow safety guidelines, which include:

  • Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles
  • Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times
  • Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
  • Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying
  • Don’t fly near people or stadiums
  • Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs
  • Don’t be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft

The statutory parameters of a model aircraft operation are outlined in Section 336 of Public Law 112-95 (the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012) (PDF). Individuals who fly within the scope of these parameters do not require permission to operate their UAS; any flight outside these parameters (including any non-hobby, non-recreational operation) requires FAA authorization. For example, using a UAS to take photos for your personal use is recreational; using the same device to take photographs or videos for compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a non-recreational operation.

More about the Know Before You Fly campaign

Read the FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (PDF)

Read the Do’s and Don’ts of Model Aircraft Operations

View FAA YouTube videos on safe model aircraft operations.

The “Model Aircraft Do’s and Don’ts” (PDF)

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