Unmanned Aircraft Systems


  • Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), formerly referred to as "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" (UAVs) or "Drones," are having an increasing operational presence in the NAS
    • Once the exclusive domain of the military, UAS are now being operated by various entities
  • Although these aircraft are "unmanned," UAS are flown by a remotely located pilot and crew
  • Physical and performance characteristics of unmanned aircraft (UA) vary greatly and unlike model aircraft that typically operate lower than 400' AGL, UA may be found operating at virtually any altitude and any speed
  • Sizes of UA can be as small as several pounds to as large as a commercial transport aircraft
  • UAS come in various categories including airplane, rotorcraft, powered-lift (tilt-rotor), and lighter-than-air
  • Propulsion systems of UAS include a broad range of alternatives from piston powered and turbojet engines to battery and solar-powered electric motors


  • To ensure segregation of UAS operations from other aircraft, the military typically conducts UAS operations within restricted or other special use airspace
  • However, UAS operations are now being approved in the NAS outside of special use airspace through the use of FAA-issued Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) or through the issuance of a special airworthiness certificate
  • COA and special airworthiness approvals authorize UAS flight operations to be contained within specific geographic boundaries and altitudes, usually require coordination with an ATC facility, and typically require the issuance of a NOTAM describing the operation to be conducted
  • UAS approvals also require observers to provide "see-and-avoid" capability to the UAS crew and to provide the necessary compliance with 14 CFR Section 91.113
  • For UAS operations approved at or above FL180, UAS operate under the same requirements as that of manned aircraft (i.e., flights are operated under instrument flight rules, are in communication with ATC, and are appropriately equipped)

UAS Definitions:

  • Control Station: an interface used by the remote pilot to control the flight path of the small unmanned aircraft
  • Corrective Lenses: spectacles or contact lenses
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft: an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds on takeoff, including everything that is on board or otherwise attached to the aircraft
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft System (small UAS): a small unmanned aircraft and its associated elements (including communication links and the components that control the small unmanned aircraft) that are required for the safe and efficient operation of the small unmanned aircraft in the national airspace system
  • Unmanned Aircraft: an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft
  • Visual Observer: a person who is designated by the remote pilot in command to assist the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS to see and avoid other air traffic or objects aloft or on the ground


  • UAS operations may be approved at either controlled or uncontrolled airports and are typically disseminated by NOTAM
  • In all cases, approved UAS operations must comply with all applicable regulations and/or special provisions specified in the COA or in the operating limitations of the special airworthiness certificate
  • By regulation, no person may operate a small unmanned aircraft in a manner that interferes with operations and traffic patterns at any airport, heliport, or seaplane base
  • Operations At Uncontrolled Airports:

    • At uncontrolled airports, UAS operations are advised to operate well clear of all known manned aircraft operations
    • Pilots of manned aircraft are advised to follow normal operating procedures and are urged to monitor the CTAF for any potential UAS activity
  • Operations At Controlled Airports:

    • At controlled airports, local ATC procedures may be in place to handle UAS operations and should not require any special procedures from manned aircraft entering or departing the traffic pattern or operating in the vicinity of the airport
  • In addition, a recently approved agreement between the FAA and the Department of Defense authorizes small UAS operations wholly contained within Class G airspace, and in no instance, greater than 1200' AGL over military owned or leased property
  • These operations do not require any special authorization as long as the UA remains within the lateral boundaries of the military installation as well as other provisions including the issuance of a NOTAM
  • Unlike special use airspace, these areas may not be depicted on an aeronautical chart
  • All recreational flyers must pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test and provide proof of test passage (the TRUST completion certificate) to the FAA or law enforcement upon request

UAS Currency:

  • Drone pilots who already have part 107 Remote Pilot Certification can take their required recency of knowledge training courses online. The training ensures that they have the updated knowledge necessary to operate. The training is free and available on FAASafety.gov. Be sure to follow the "Training Credit" instructions in the Introduction or Review sections of these courses, before you begin, to receive the appropriate credit. Here are the courses:
    • Part 107 Small UAS Recurrent Non-Part 61 Pilots (ALC-677) - All individuals who hold a part 107 remote pilot certificate are eligible to take this course. If you don't hold any other pilot certificates other than part 107, this is likely the course you need to take. http://bit.ly/ALC-677
    • Part 107 Small UAS Initial (ALC-451) - Only part 107 remote pilots who are also certificated and current under part 61 are eligible to take this course. http://bit.ly/ALC451
    • Part 107 Small UAS Recurrent (ALC -515) - Only part 107 remote pilots who are also certificated and current under part 61 are eligible to take this course. http://bit.ly/ALC515
    • UAS Initial Aeronautical Knowledge Test - If you do not hold a current Remote Pilot Certificate and want to operate under part 107, you must take this test through an FAA-Approved Knowledge Testing Center (https://faa.psiexams.com). Please note that there is a fee associated with this test. Part 61 pilots who do not have a current flight review (per 14 CFR 61.56) and wish to operate under Part 107 are required to take this test as well
  • Completing any of the online courses or passing the UAS Initial Aeronautical Knowledge Test will provide 24 calendar months of currency. A calendar month includes all days within that month. For example, completing the Part 107 Small UAS Recurrent Non-Part 61 Pilots (ALC-677) course on April 6, 2021, will permit a remote pilot to fly under part 107 through April 30, 2023. For more information, go to www.faa.gov/uas or see the FAA news release here: https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=97201

UAS Regulation:

  • Part 107 exists for and applies to the registration, airman certification, and operation of civil small unmanned aircraft systems within the United States
  • Part 107 does not apply to:
    • Air carrier operations;
    • Any aircraft subject to the provisions of part 101 of this chapter; or
    • Any operation that a remote pilot in command elects to conduct pursuant to an exemption issued under section 333 of Public Law 112-95, unless otherwise specified in the exemption

Demonstration of Compliance:

  • A remote pilot in command, owner, or person manipulating the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system must, upon request, make available to the Administrator:
    • The remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating; and
    • Any other document, record, or report required to be kept under the regulations of this chapter
  • The remote pilot in command, visual observer, owner, operator, or person manipulating the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system must, upon request, allow the Administrator to make any test or inspection of the small unmanned aircraft system, the remote pilot in command, the person manipulating the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system, and, if applicable, the visual observer to determine compliance with this part


  • UAS will continue to grow at a rapid pace, accelerated by the International Standards Organization's release of TC 20/SC 16
  • There are several factors a pilot should consider regarding UAS activity in an effort to reduce potential flight hazards
  • Pilots are urged to exercise increased vigilance when operating in the vicinity of restricted or other special use airspace, military operations areas, and any military installation
  • Areas with a preponderance of UAS activity are typically noted on sectional charts advising pilots of this activity
  • Since the size of a UA can be very small, they may be difficult to see and track
  • If a UA is encountered during flight, as with manned aircraft, never assume that the pilot or crew of the UAS can see you, maintain increased vigilance with the UA and always be prepared for evasive action if necessary
  • Always check NOTAMs for potential UAS activity along the intended route of flight and exercise increased vigilance in areas specified in the NOTAM
  • Learn mroe about aircraft registration
  • Everything has the potential to be waived, and the FAA has published guidance on how
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