The Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, or Drone License, provides for the widest range of permissions and allowances. But there are many cases where a researcher may be satisfied with operating only under the Recreational Exception.
But let’s explain the difference between the two.
Under Part 107
- Drone License required
- May fly for any purpose
- ‘Fly only when it is safe’
- The pilot is responsible for determining whether the environment and all conditions are safe for a drone flight. The pilot must their best judgment to assess whether the proposed flight operation will put anyone at risk.
- May request special permissions
- Above FAA Facility Map altitudes
- Over People, BVLOS, More than 1 drone at a time
Under Recreational Exception
- TRUST certificate required
- May fly only for Recreation or Approved Academic Activities
- ‘Fly only in safe locations’
- The site has been designated by an organization, or is sufficiently clear and controlled, that this environment and location poses the least amount of risk to all participants. The pilot is still responsible for ensuring the safety of the flight, but the location is generally expected to be completely safe.
- No allowances for advanced operations
- Must stick to the basic rules for flight operations
Flight operations in access controlled locations, such as UC Reserves or agricultural field stations, are generally acceptable for the Recreational Exception. The use of a reserved campus field, such as an Intramural Athletic Field or a Campus quad, may also be acceptable for the Recreational Exception as well.
You may not need a drone license if your flight operations can fit under the stipulations listed for ‘recreational’ activities and your flight operations are related to
- Instruction of students
- Academic or research related uses of unmanned aircraft systems that have been approved by the institution
- Activities undertaken by the institution as part of research projects
- Other academic activities approved by the institution
Note that there is no restriction on who the approved academic activities can apply to. Any person associated with the University undertaking the above academic activities are eligible, this includes academic staff or academic support staff. For example, a staff member at a UC Reserve may operate under the academic exception when conducting research activities.
However, not all UC activity is academic, even if it is for an academic group. For example, a student flying a drone to take pictures of the Engineering Hall for the Engineering Department is not considered academic.
Recreational flight operations, despite what you see on YouTube, have strict requirements:
- Only fly below 400 ft
- Must stay within Visual Line of Sight
- Must fly only in safe areas and no closer than 25 ft to any individuals
- Must use an established safety line to separate all operations from spectators and bystanders
- Must get FAA authorization to fly in Controlled Airspace (Class B, Class C, Class D and surface Class E)
- Never fly over any person or moving vehicle
- Never interfere with any manned aircraft or emergency response activity
- Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Never operate in a careless or reckless manner
In many cases, these regulations are not that restrictive. For research activities in a controlled location, such as an agricultural field station or a natural reserve, it is often easy to abide by these regulations.
Commonly the restriction that moves an activity into requiring a Drone license is the proximity to people and buildings, or the activity does not meet the definition of an academic activity. Some example scenarios are discussed in the Frequently Asked Question section in Chapter 2.4.
There are other conditions that may require a closer evaluation, including whether you’re a US citizen or if you plan on flying internationally. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to UASsafety@ucmerced.edu for a consultation.
Other scenarios that may require a closer look
- Performing a demonstration
- Not a US citizen
- Flying above 400 ft AGL
- Flying in fog or with limited visibility
- Flying at night
- Flying internationally
Once you know which authorization you need, continue on to read more about how to get it.