The UA is the flying portion of the system, flown by a pilot via a ground control system, or autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UA to operate safely. The FAA issues an experimental airworthiness certificate for the entire system, not just the flying portion of the system.
This includes a wide range of aircraft including, but not limited to, traditional radio controlled fixed wing aircraft and radio controlled helicopters. Model aircraft can include small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) aircraft, such as “quadcopters,” flown for recreational or hobby purposes.
Model aircraft are defined by the purpose of flight rather than the particular configuration of the aircraft. Essential to the model aircraft operation is that the aircraft is operated for recreational or hobby purposes and the flight follows the requirements of Section 336 of Public Law 112-95.
Read the FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (PDF)
Air Shows and Sporting Events
For aircraft operations in the vicinity of aerial demonstrations and major sporting events, 14 CFR 91.145 gives the FAA authority to establish Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) to protect persons or property on the ground or in the air, to maintain air safety and efficiency, or to prevent the unsafe congestion of aircraft in the vicinity of an aerial demonstration or sporting event. In practice, TFRs issued under 14 CFR 91.145 are issued primarily for air shows. The FAA determines when a 14 CFR 91.145 TFR should be issued for a sporting event on a case-by-case basis.
FDC 9/5151, issued under 14 CFR 99.7 on “Special Security Instructions,” restricts flight over stadiums during Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL) regular season, NCAA football, and motor speedway events. The so-called “stadium TFR” prohibits all aircraft and parachute operations at or below 3,000 AGL within a 3 nm radius of any stadium with a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people when there is an MLB game, regular or post-season NFL game, NCAA Division I football game, or major motor speedway event occurring. This TFR applies to the entire US domestic national airspace system, and takes effect from one hour before the scheduled event time until one hour after the event concludes.
- Special Airworthiness Certificates – Experimental Category (SAC-EC) for civil aircraft to perform research and development, crew training, and market surveys. However, carrying persons or property for compensation or hire is prohibited. For more information, please contact the Airworthiness Certification Service, AIR-113, at 202-267-1575. 1,3
- 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 a type certificate for production of the UAS under 14 CFR § 21.25(a)(1) or § 21.17. 7,8
- Petition for Exemption with a civil Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for civil aircraft to perform commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments. For more information, please visit our Section 333 page. Instructions for petitioning for exemption are available here.
Public (governmental) UAS operations must go through the Public COA process. More information is available here.
Specifically, Section 333 allows the Secretary to determine which types of UAS, as a result of their size, weight, speed, operational capability, proximity to airports and populated areas, and operation within visual line-of-sight, do not pose a hazard to NAS users or to national security, and whether an airworthiness certificate or COA is required for operation.
A Section 333 grant of exemption is required for any civil UAS operation that is not for hobby or recreational purposes. Though not as common, access to the NAS for civil UAS can also be granted through a Special Airworthiness Certificate in the Experimental or Restricted Category, as described in Question 5. A COA is not required when granted a Special Airworthiness Certificate.
Under the Section 333 exemption the civil UAS operator may not operate within 5 nautical miles of an airport reference point (ARP) as denoted in the current FAA Airport/Facility Directory (AFD) or for airports not denoted with an ARP, the center of the airport symbol as denoted on the current FAA-published aeronautical chart, unless a letter of agreement with that airport’s management is obtained or otherwise permitted by a COA issued to the exemption holder. The letter of agreement with the airport management must be made available to FAA officials or any law enforcement official upon request.
Pilot certification requirements for petitions for exemption under Section 333 are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. While Section 333 grants the Secretary of Transportation flexibility with regard to airworthiness certification requirements, it does not grant the Secretary any flexibility with regard to airman certification standards as outlined in Sections 44703 and 44711 of Title 49 of the United States Code (49 USC). An FAA airman certificate is required to operate an aircraft in the National Airspace System.
A public UAS operation must be conducted under the authority of a COA issued by the FAA. A COA for a public UAS operation 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.
Read more about public UAS operations.
A grant of exemption issued by the FAA in accordance with Section 333 of public Law 12-95 and a civil COA issued by the FAA or
A Special Airworthiness Certificate in the Experimental or Restricted Category.
Read more about UAS civil operations.
Civil operators authorized via Section 333 grants of exemption are automatically issued a “blanket COA” to conduct civil UAS operations nationwide. The blanket COA authorizes flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator with a Section 333 exemption for aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds, operate during daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions, operate within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilots, and stay the following distances away from airports or heliports:
5 nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower; or
3 NM from an airport with a published instrument flight procedure, but not an operational tower; or
2 NM from an airport without a published instrument flight procedure or an operational tower; or
2 NM from a heliport with a published instrument flight procedure.
A UAS operator that wants to operate from an airport or within the distances from the airport stated above for the “blanket COA”, must apply for and obtain a separate COA specific to the proposed flight on or near an airport. These are sometimes referred to as a “full COA”. This type of COA will provide specific details and parameters of the permitted operation. Please note that the documentation for the “blanket COA” and the “full COA” may initially appear to be very similar and the FAA recommends obtaining the entire COA documentation from the UAS operator for review.
Please note that any UAS activity strictly for recreational or hobby purposes is considered a Model Aircraft operation and the Model Aircraft must be operated in accordance with Section 336 of Public Law 112-95. Read more about Model Aircraft operations near an airport.
A clear “status” indicator that immediately informs the operator about their current or planned location. For example, it shows flying in the Special Flight Rules Area around Washington, DC is prohibited.
Information on the parameters that drive the status indicator.
A “Planner Mode” for future flights in different locations.
Informative, interactive maps with filtering options.
Links to other FAA UAS resources and regulatory information.
The B4UFLY APP is available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. The B4UFLY APP will also be available via the Google Play Store, after Beta testing for the Android system is completed.
Read more about the B4UFLY APP.