Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
An unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is an unmanned aircraft (UA) with associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications, and navigation equipment necessary to operate it. A UA is considered an aircraft under both 49 U.S.C. § 40102 and 14 C.F.R. § 1.1.
Currently, both the Federal Government and the State of Florida have established regulations for UAS operation – using US codes and federal regulations on the federal level and by statute on the state level. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) focuses primarily on safety while the State of Florida statutes focus on the appropriate use of UAS and the protection of privacy. While the FAA and Florida have major roles in providing guidance and regulation for UAS operations and management, it is important to note that other users also play important roles. As such, airports, law enforcement, pilots, and the UAS operators also have important responsibilities in the safe and appropriate operation of UAS within the National Airspace System (NAS).
The following sections provide an overview of the various regulations and responsibilities as they relate to each UAS operations entity.
FDOT Aviation Office has developed an informational brochure to assist airports, UAS operators, the public, pilots, and law enforcements in increasing their knowledge of roles, responsibilities, and guidance related to UAS operations. Click HERE to download the UAS brochure.
FAA’s B4UFLY Smartphone Application
The FAA developed their B4UFLY smartphone application to help unmanned operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly as well as provide guidance and planning resources to improve coordination between UAS operations and airports – both public and private use – throughout the country. The application can be downloaded at https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/where_can_i_fly/b4ufly/
The FAA is responsible for the safe and efficient movement of aircraft in the air and on the ground. Initial regulations for the operations of UAS were provided in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which adopted specific rules for the operation of UAS in the NAS. Regardless of the type of UAS operation, FAA’s regulations and Federal Codes prohibit any conduct that endangers individuals and property within the NAS. Specifically these guidelines:
- Require the FAA to regulate aircraft and UAS operations in the NAS (49 U.S.C. § 40103)
- Authorize government public safety agencies to operate UAS under certain restrictions (FAA: A.C.001.1-A)
- Ban all unmanned aircraft and remote control aircraft operations within three miles and up to 3,000 feet in altitude from all major sporting events as detailed in the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 4/3621. It should be noted that NOTAMs apply to UAS operators. (FAA: NOTAM 4/3621)
Based on the most current regulations, there are numerous ways in which a UAS operator may fly. All users may operate under the Small UAS Rule, Part 107, with additional specific requirements for operations for those flying for work or flying for fun. Below are descriptions of the different types of users.
Small UAS Rule (Part 107)
- Operation under the Small UAS Rule requires the operator to obtain a remote pilot certificate by passing the aeronautical knowledge test and completing FAA -form 8710-13.
- In addition to obtaining a remote pilot certificate, pilots operating under the Small UAS Rule (Part 107) must adhere to the following guidelines:
- 1. Operate UAS within visual line of sight and only during daylight hours
- 2. Operate UAS no higher than 400 feet and no faster than 100 mph
- 3. Only use class G airspace
- 4. Do not fly over people not directly participating in the activity
- 5. Do not fly from a moving vehicle
- 6. Remain clear and yield to all manned aircraft operations
Flying for Work: Users flying for work are operating for a specific business purpose and are receiving compensation. If a user does not wish to follow the guidelines of the Small UAS Rule (Part 107), they may do either of the following:
- A grant of exemptions in accordance with Section 333 Section 333 Authorizations Granted (faa.gov)
- Special Airworthiness Certificate; FAA will assess the risk and determine authorization approval (www.faa.gov/aircraft/air_cert/airworthiness_certification/sp_awcert/experiment/)
Flying for Fun: Flying for fun includes users who are receiving no compensation and are flying for their own personal enjoyment. Recreational UAS operation must adhere to: the provisions of Aviation Circular 91-57A and Section 336 of Public Law 112-95. Specific provisions include:
- Fly for hobby or recreational purposes only
- Follow a community-based set of safety guidelines
- Fly UAS that weigh no more than 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization
- Provide prior notification to the airport and air traffic control tower, if one is present, when flying within 5 miles of an airport
- Follow the guidelines provided by the Small UAS Rule (Part 107)
Federal UAS Operator Guidance
UAS operators are encouraged to be familiar with the Know Before You Fly Campaign and must ensure the following:
- The safe operation of their UAS at all times both in the sky and on the ground;
- Their UAS remains clear of all aircraft, people, and structures at all times; and
- To adhere to airspace, aircraft operations, and privacy laws at all times.
Previously, all UAS operators were required by the FAA to register their drone. However, a recent court case brought before a federal court ruled that the FAA’s registration rules were in violation of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act which prohibited the FAA from creating rules on the operation of model aircraft. Therefore, UAS operators who are using their drone for recreational purposes only, are not required to register their drone as long as it is under 55 pounds in weight.
Though not required, the FAA suggests that all users register their drone to assist in the recovery of lost equipment.
For operators who are flying a drone for work or a recreational drone over 55 pounds, each UAS must be registered individually and the registration number must be placed in a visible location in the UAS.
Small drones (those weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds, including all attachments and payload such as cameras) can be registered at https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/register_drone/
Drones weighing 55 lbs. or more must be registered through a paper system. Please visit http://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/aircraft_certification/aircraft_registry/ for more information.
Operate UAS within visual sight at all times (Section 334, and 336 P.L. 112-25)
Operate UAS no higher than 400 feet and remain below surrounding obstacles
Contact the airport or air traffic control tower before flying within five miles of an airport; (FAA: A.C. 91-57A; Section 336, P.L. 112-25)
Do not operate a UAS:
Additional FAA regulation includes:
If it is uncertified and weighs more than 55 lbs. (FAA: A.C. 91-57A; Section 336, P.L. 112-25)
Near or over sensitive infrastructure, (e.g., power stations, correctional facilities, public roadways, etc.) NOTAMs should be consulted for facility-specific flight restrictions. (FAA: A.C. 91-57A; Section 336, P.L. 112-25)
In adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility (Know Before You Fly)
Under the influence of alcohol or drugs (Know Before You Fly)
Department of Homeland SecurityThe Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 grants the Department of Homeland Security statutory authority to
counter credible threats from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to the safety or security of a covered facility or
asset.This authority is paramount to the Department’s mission to protect and secure the Homeland from evolving
threats. The Department is in the process of coordinating with Components and stakeholders regarding the need for
additional counter-UAS (CUAS) authorities. The link to download the full document can be found by clicking here DHS CUAS Legal Authorities factsheet
FDOT regulates airports, promotes their development, and protects the approaches to Florida’s aviation facilities by Florida Statute (F.S.). Independent of FDOT, UAS operator rules are provided in Chapter 330.41, 330.411, and 934.50, F.S., and regulate use, operation and law enforcement, civil, business, and personal uses, as well as the liabilities associated with them.
Specifically, Chapter 330.41(4)(a). F.S., provides the use of UAS for the following purposes:
- A person may not knowingly or willfully operate a drone over a critical infrastructure facility (330.41(4)(a)1, F.S.)
- A person may not knowingly or willfully allow a drone to make contact with a critical infrastructure facility, including any person or object on the premises of or within the facility (330.41(4)(a)2, F.S.)
- A person may not knowingly or willfully allow a drone to come within a distance of a critical infrastructure facility that is close enough to interfere with the operations of or cause a disturbance to the facility (330.41(4)(a)3, F.S.)
Specifically, Chapter 330.411, F.S., prohibits the use of UAS for the following purposes:
- A person may not possess or operate an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system with an attached weapon, firearm, explosive, destructive device, or ammunition
Specifically, Chapter 934.50(3), F.S., prohibits the use of UAS for the following purposes:
- Use of UAS by law enforcement to gather evidence or other information (934.50(3)(a), F.S.)
Additionally, under Chapter 934.50(4), F.S., UAS are allowed for the following uses:
- To counter a terrorist threat (934.50(4)(a), F.S.)
- Law enforcement activity with a warrant (934.50(4)(b), F.S.)
- For law enforcement in particular circumstances when swift action is needed (934.50(4)(c), F.S.)
- A business or profession may use a drone to conduct reasonable tasks within the scope of that business’ license (934.50(4)(d), F.S.)
- For property appraisals (934.50(4)(e), F.S.)
- To capture images of electric, water, or natural gas facilities (934.50(4)(f), F.S.)
- For aerial mapping in compliance with FAA regulations (934.50(4)(g), F.S.)
- To deliver cargo in compliance with FAA regulations (934.50(4)(h), F.S.)
- To capture images necessary for the safe operation or navigation of a UAS, when used for purposes allowed under federal and Florida law (934.50(4)(i), F.S.)
- By a communications service provider or a contractor for a communications service provider for routing, siting, installation, maintenance or inspection of facilities used to provide communications services (943.50(4)(i), F.S.)
An airport is responsible for ensuring the safety of airport facilities and for managing airport lands, buildings, and infrastructure. Airports should understand the rules and regulations related to UAS operations at and in the vicinity of their airport and coordinate with the FAA and FDOT to ensure the safety of airport operations. Airports should notify local law enforcement and the FAA in the event of an unauthorized UAS is used in close proximity to the airport.
Local Law Enforcement’s Responsibility
Local law enforcement is responsible for enforcing the laws and regulations as they relate to UAS operations. If a UAS operator is suspected of breaking FAA regulations, local law enforcement agencies (LEA) are encouraged to follow D.R.O.N.E.
- Direct Attention outward and upward, attempt to locate and identify individuals operating the drone (Look at windows/balconies/ roof tops).
- Report Incident to the FAA Regional Operations Center (ROC). Follow-up assistance can be obtained through FAA Law Enforcement Assistance Program Special Agents
- Observe the UAS and maintain visibility of the device, look for damage or injured individual.
- Notice features: Identify the type of device (fixed-wing/multi-rotor), its size, shape, color, payload, and activity of device
- Execute appropriate police action: Maintain a safe environment for general public and first responders. Conduct a field interview and document ALL details of the event per guidance provided by the FAA.
Pilots are in charge of operating aircraft – including UAS - in a safe manner and are ultimately responsible for the route and operation of aircraft in the sky and on the ground. Pilots should understand the rules and regulations of UAS and report any improper use or operation. Please utilize the FAA’s “I Fly Safe” UAS safety checklist here.
The community should understand the rules and regulations regarding airports and aircraft. Knowing the roles and responsibilities of those involved in aviation (the FAA, the airports, airlines, pilots, etc.) and how to contact the appropriate entity will help ensure the safe and effective operations of UAS. Community members should know the locations of airports in their area and report any suspicious activity to the appropriate agencies.
The FDOT Airport Directory lists the owner, manager, and contact information for all public and private use facilities in Florida. The link to download the Directory as well as a map of Florida’s public use aviation facilities can be found here.
A map of Florida’s aviation facilities can be found at https://fdot.gov/aviation/facilitymap.shtm.