General Operations

UAS is the unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the unmanned aircraft.

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.

A model aircraft is 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 only for hobby or recreational purposes.

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.

Recreational or hobby use is typically understood as the model aircraft being flown for personal interest and enjoyment and not for business purposes or compensation or hire. Please refer to the FAA’s interpretation of recreational or hobby use in FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.
A model aircraft owner must register with the FAA if they intend to fly a model aircraft outdoors and the model aircraft weighs more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds. Read more about UAS registration.
No, but your aircraft must be registered if it weighs more than 0.55 lbs. FAA guidance also says that model aircraft should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas and full scale aircraft, should be kept within visual line of sight of the operator, should weigh under 55 lbs. unless certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization, and cannot be used for business purposes.1, 2

Read the Do’s and Don’ts of Model Aircraft operations.

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

Register your model aircraft / remote-controlled (RC) aircraft

No. FAA guidance says that model aircraft flights should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas.

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.

Yes. There are presently three methods of gaining FAA approval for flying civil (non-governmental) UAS:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.

The Aircraft Certification Service, AIR-113 at FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C. holds this responsibility and can be reached via email or telephone at 202-267-1575. All questions regarding the process and procedures required to obtain an experimental certificate will be answered by AIR-113.
From our experience, depending on the complexity, this process can take from two months to one year.
Section 333 of Public Law 112-95 grants the Secretary of Transportation authority to allow certain UAS to operate in the NAS prior to the completion of the small UAS rule. Essentially, the grant of exemption permits the Secretary of Transportation to determine whether certain UAS may operate in the NAS without the UAS meeting all regulatory and statutory requirements for manned aircraft, such as aircraft certification. The FAA issues an exemption to facilitate this decision-making process and to provide relief from current FAA rules where appropriate until final rulemaking is completed.
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.
The standard period for evaluating petitions for exemptions is 120 days.
If the aircraft is issued an airworthiness certificate, a pilot certificate is required. 5

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.

Federal law defines a UAS as an aircraft, and, as such, public agencies and organizations are permitted access to operate in the U.S. airspace system. Federal law allows government entities to perform certain governmental functions in the NAS as “public aircraft” operations. While public aircraft operations generally must follow airspace rules, they are not subject to the same requirements as civil aircraft operations. Public UAS operations fall within the existing statutory definitions of public aircraft as outlined in Advisory Circular 00-1.1A.

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 COA is an authorization issued by the FAA to grant NAS access for a specific UAS activity. COAs contain requirements the holder must follow. The FAA issues COAs for both public UAS operations and civil UAS operations.
The UAS COA process is managed in Washington, DC, FAA Headquarters in the UAS Group (AJV-13). Contact AJV-13 via email for assistance. The process includes opening a COA website account, which has an application that can be populated on-line. Public aircraft are tied to government agencies, therefore credentials must be provided.
From our experience, depending on the system and operational complexity, the process may take from 60 to 90 days.
A civil UAS operation is any UAS activity that does not meet the criteria for public UAS operations or model aircraft operations. A civil UAS operation is authorized in two ways:
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.
Currently there are no actions being taken to establish a “special UAS airspace”. This “special UAS airspace” would be counter to the idea of integrating unmanned aircraft into the NAS because it would be segregating, not integrating.
All operations conducted in civil airspace must meet minimum levels of safety. Public UAS operators have the ability to self-certify their equipment and personnel, but civil operators are certified by the FAA. We believe civil operators will benefit from the collaboration between the FAA and the public operators. Presently, the FAA is drafting a rule to address small UAS (less than 55 lbs.). Until that rule is promulgated, anyone wishing to operate a UAS for purposes other than hobby/recreational must obtain a grant of exemption issued under Section 333 or type and airworthiness certificate.
The UAS industry has grown largely as a result of supporting the defense organizations and this is reflected in the type of systems that have been developed. However, operations in civil airspace have different priorities. Civil performance standards are often more stringent, especially in the areas of reliability. Public expectation for a safe aviation environment drives our very high standards.
News media use of a UAS is not for hobby or recreational purposes, so FAA authorization is necessary. Media organizations may hire a company that already has a Section 333 exemption; that company would have to apply for and obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to fly in a particular block of airspace. Media organizations also may apply for their own Section 333 exemptions. See
Under 49 United States Code 40103, the United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States and the FAA has the authority to prescribe air traffic regulations on the flight of aircraft, including UAS. Whether Federal law preempts state or local requirements for UAS depends on the precise nature of those requirements. The Department of Transportation evaluates these laws or requirements on a case-by-case basis to make sure they don’t conflict with FAA’s authority to provide safe and efficient use of U.S. airspace.
This is an educational campaign founded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and the Small UAV Coalition in partnership with the FAA to educate prospective users about the safe and responsible operation of UAS, including model aircraft. Read more about the Know Before You Fly Campaign
The B4UFLY APP is an easy-to-use smartphone app developed by the FAA that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly. Key features of the B4UFLY app include:
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.
Read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Operations on an Airport for more information.