Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Won't Go Away

At issue is whether unmanned aerial systems (UAS) will ever provide "an equivalent level of safety" to manned aircraft operating in the NAS.

sectionals (aviation map). This includes most cities and densely populated


* The FAA will consider issuing a COA for operations in unpopulated areas

as long as the agency seeking the COA can demonstrate that the operation is

safe, that sufficient risk mitigations are in place, and the operators have

sufficient training (which includes a pilot's license and medical certificate);

* Any law enforcement agency operating a UAS will be required to

establish their own airworthiness for the UAS. The airworthiness establishment

is the responsibility of the agency and not the vendor. Remember, any agency

applying for and receiving a COA assumes liability for the entire operation.

While vendor information may be used in deeming an aircraft airworthy, it should

not be the only information relied upon;

* The operation of a UAS requires a FAA certificated pilot with a current

class II medical certificate and an observer, who while not required to be a

pilot, but must have a class II medical certificate;

* A vendor approaching a law enforcement agency offering to demonstrate a

UAS to an agency must have an experimental airworthiness certificate issued by

the FAA prior to the flight. A vendor cannot rely upon an agencies COA to fly

the aircraft. COAs are only issued for aircraft that qualify as "public"


* The rules allowing the recreation use of model aircraft by hobbyist DO

NOT allow law enforcement agencies to use a UAS without a COA;

* There are currently no comprehensive studies that confirm the safety

records or vendor published data regarding the use of UASs. Problems identified

by the military's evaluation of UAS have included radio interference,

unexplained control loss, and the durability of the units for repeat flight

operations. Department of Defense UAS Program Managers expressed at a recent FAA

meeting on UAS, that they rarely get 10 or more missions accomplished with one

UAS unit due to crashes;

* It is not anticipated that the FAA will amend their position on the

operations of UAS before the year 2010. However, there are two key activities

taking place that will push the airspace access issue forward. The first is that

the FAA has agreed to conduct two test projects with major metropolitan police

departments. One is Miami/Dade, and the other is Houston. Each of these will

provide valuable insight into the difficulties that may exist in operating UAS

in urban environments. The other activity is the creation of new regulation for

small UAS to fly in the airspace. This recent development is just starting and

will be the genesis for getting small UAS flying in a majority of the U.S.

without a COA. Rulemaking can take time, however, so stick with the COA process

for the next year or two.

Through the Office of Justice Program's National Institute of Justice

(NIJ) and its Aviation Technology Program, law enforcement will have the chance

to voice their opinions regarding the use of UAS in the NAS.

NIJ is working with the FAA on rules and regulations regarding the use of

UAS by law enforcement that both enhance the mission of public safety and

provide for the safety of other aircraft in the national airspace and those on

the ground.

NIJ is planning a forum on the use of UAS by law enforcement with FAA

participation during the winter of 20072008. NIJ invites interested law

enforcement agencies to participate in this process.

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