I’ve been reading a lot lately about the use of drones, or small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) in higher education, and there is some really exciting work going on in areas such as agriculture, engineering, photography, and GIS. We know that students learn best when they are active and engaged, so it is no surprise that faculty who have an interest in sUAS may also be interested in designing classroom activities with sUAS that can help students achieve course learning goals. It’s a great idea, but unless you are flying indoors, it is also important to know the regulations around sUAS and how to comply.
First, I’ll say that all of this may change any day now! The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a new framework of regulations that would make sUAS use in higher education, including for instruction and research, much more accessible. Until the new framework is approved – hopefully sometime this summer – I wanted to share what I’ve learned about using sUAS for instruction.
Can instructors fly sUAS in class?
As paid employees, instructor use of sUAS in a classroom setting (or for research) is considered “commercial” use. The current regulations for commercial use are very restrictive. The instructor would need to be flying under a “333 Exemption,” which UGA does not have. At this time, even if we did have the appropriate exemption, the instructor would also need a recreational, sport, or private pilot certificate. Sorry instructors, but you may not legally be the pilot in command of the sUAS during class. You’re grounded!
Can students fly sUAS in class?
Student use of sUAS in class is a different story, because it can be classified as “hobby” or “recreational” use. There are still some important rules to follow, but a pilot’s license is not required. Also, if a student is about to lose control of the sUAS, the instructor could temporarily take over to regain control or land the sUAS.
So what are the “important rules to follow” for hobby or recreational use of the sUAS by students in classroom settings? Here are some do’s and don’ts for students:
- Fly sUAS that are registered with the FAA;
- Make sure the sUAS weighs 55 pounds or less;
- Keep the sUAS in your line-of-sight while you are the pilot in command;
- Remain clear of manned aircraft operations;
- Stay at least 25 feet away from people and vulnerable property;
- Contact the airport and control tower before flying when within five miles of an airport or heliport. Important note: The UGA main campus and facilities on South Milledge Avenue are within five miles of Athens Ben Epps Airport, so you MUST contact them before flying.
- Fly the sUAS higher than 400 feet;
- Fly in adverse weather conditions, such as high winds or low visibility;
- Intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles;
- Fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations or government facilities;
- Fly over heavily-populated areas, such as sporting events or concerts;
- Conduct surveillance or photograph persons in areas where there is an expectation of privacy, unless you have permission.
I am very excited about the use of sUAS for instruction at UGA, and I will post just as soon as I learn anything about the proposed, more accessible regulations. Until then, check out the resources below, and let me know if you have any questions. I may not know the answers, but I am happy to learn with you! We’d also love to hear your ideas for using drones in class.
Have questions about using sUAS for research at UGA? Please contact Matt Wells in the Office of the Vice President for Research at email@example.com
AMA sUAS Flight Safety Guide
The FAA recommends this guide from the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
Know Before You Fly
This is a very helpful site that includes links to FAA documents, safety recommendations, and frequently asked questions.
Federal Aviation Administration Memorandum re: Educational Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems
This memo from the FAA, dated May 4, 2016, clarifies the use of sUAS in classroom settings.
This web app, also available for iOS, shows airport locations and phone numbers, as well as temporary flight restrictions, such as football games.
B4UFly App (added to post on June 16)
Another great app I learned about from Athens-Ben Epps Airport Director, Tim Beggerly. This one is published by the FAA and includes airport locations and phone numbers as well as a planning mode for future flights. Thanks for the lead on this one, Tim!
UAV Forecast (added to post on June 16)
Athens-Ben Epps Airport Director, Tim Beggerly, also recommends this app that provides wind, weather, GPX, and solar flare (Kp) conditions, with forecasts for up to seven days.