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Safe Use of Drones on Campus

Melanie Bennett, Esq., ARM-E
April 2024
Drone Masthead
FAA guidelines for registering drones and creating drone policies

K-12 schools, colleges, and universities regularly use drones for education, campus security, and promotional videography, but the increased presence of drones on campus adds to the potential for liability. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in response to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, clarified its guidelines for the registration and use of drones.

With this clarification, your institution can more easily register drones and create a comprehensive policy.

What Is a Drone?

Drones are unmanned aircraft flown by a pilot on the ground, usually using handheld navigation equipment displaying a live video feed from the aircraft, which is often recorded. They range in size and capabilities, but most can provide aerial views and transport small cargo.

Institutions use drones for research and videography. For example, some institutions record aerial views of their campuses for promotional purposes or tape athletic and marching band practices for review by coaches and band leaders. Drones also are used to conduct rooftop inspections and map building sites. With personal drones becoming more common and affordable, students and visitors are bringing them to campus, thus complicating efforts to regulate use.

FAA Drone Registration

The FAA is responsible for regulating and overseeing the use of all aircraft, including drones. Drones weighing more than .55 pounds must be registered via an FAA online system. Educational institutions can request the establishment of an FAA-Recognized Identification Area, which would remove the remote identification requirement from the registration process. 

Commercial drone operators must comply with Part 107 of the Code of Federal Regulations: Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. These FAA regulations allow people over age 16 to become a drone pilot provided they pass an aeronautical test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center. After passing the test, the drone pilot can complete an online application to receive a Remote Pilot Certification.

Some school drone uses may fall within the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft. This exception allows fliers for recreational purposes to meet a more limited set of FAA requirements, including passing The Recreational UAS Safety Test. If you’re unsure whether a use is recreational, assume it is non-recreational and continue to follow the Part 107 regulations.

Creating a Policy

Despite their many positive uses, drones can cause property damage, injure people, and invade privacy. When creating your institution’s policy:

  • Ensure your policy complies with federal law and any state laws on drone use. For example, the FAA restricts flights over stadiums with a seating capacity over 30,000 people during NCAA Division I football games — from one hour before until one hour after the game. Also, the FAA limits the circumstances under which a drone pilot can operate near an airport.
  • Determine what type of drones will be permitted and the training necessary to operate them. Some institutions require prior approval for drones that the institution doesn’t own and operate. Specify institutional sanctions for noncompliance or government sanctions for illegal drone use.
  • Identify restrictions on location, height, weight, and speed of drone use. Also consider using signage to alert the campus community about these restrictions.
  • Check that appropriate insurance is in place to cover accidents; general liability policies typically exclude aircraft.
  • Publicize the drone policy via email, news releases, and signage. Educate new students and staff on the policy and the application process during orientation.

By following FAA guidelines and creating drone policies, your institution can increase the use of innovative technology while continuing to prevent risk.

Additional Resources

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