UC Unmanned Aircraft System Safety


Brandon Stark, UC Merced
Email: UASSafety@ucmerced.edu
Phone: (209) 201-2051
Please contact Risk and Safety Solutions to be added to the UC-UAS-RESEARCH-L listserv

Overview of the Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety

The Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety provides system-wide expertise, support and training for regulatory compliance, risk management and the safe operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, commonly known as drones, across the University of California system. It is also authorized to grant certain forms of approval for UAS operations in the US. Each UC campus has a local point of contact for campus specific policies and procedures. The list can be found here: Campus Point of Contacts

Cheat Sheet for UAS use

Need assistance figuring out what is allowed and not allowed for particular UAS use cases? The following cheat sheet depicts several common UAS uses in the UC system and what type of authorization would be needed or is allowed.

UC UAS Fleet Management

UAS flights at all UC campuses require prior approval and post-flight reporting. The new UC Drone Web App (go to UC Drone Web App, sign in and select the Drone symbol) provides a unified portal for managing flight requests and reporting for UC students, staff and faculty. This new app will help streamline the process while ensuring the highest level of safety and regulatory compliance. Requires a UC login.  A User Guide is available to walk users through the new tool.

Non UC users, such as 3rd party contractors, should contact the campus for campus specific procedures.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What is the UC Policy on drones?

The University of California recognizes that UAS offer great potential as tools for research and other educational functions as well as providing opportunities for recreational use and business pursuits across a diverse array of users and industries.  The University also has an obligation to consider public safety, privacy, civil rights and civil liberties issues related to the use of UAS.  In short, all UAS usage on UC property, for UC business or by UC-owned UAS must be pre-approved and documented by the designated UAS campus point of contact.  In addition, non-UC operators on UC property must maintain sufficient liability insurance coverage.

2. Who do I contact to fly on my campus?

A list of the campus points of contact can be found here.  Please understand that in many cases, the use of UAS on UC property are regulated by existing campus policies on activities, registered organizations and use of properties.  These regulations are designed to protect and promote the rights of the members of the University, prevent interference with University functions or activities and assure compliance with all pertinent laws and other applicable University policies. For UC students, staff and faculty, you may submit a Flight Request with UC Drones Web App (Go to UC Drones Web App, sign in and select the Drone symbol) or contact the campus for additional or alternative means to submit a request.

3. I need to fly a drone for my research.  What do I need to do? How long does it take for approval?

There may be several special circumstances, but in general, the operator must have an SUAS license from the FAA and must submit a Flight Request to the local campus point of contact.  Depending on the complexity and timing of the request, the flight request could be approved in minutes or may take several weeks if extra FAA approval or coordination is necessary.  A Flight Request may be a single flight, a set of flights or cover a year’s worth of activity – the details can be coordinated during the request. 

4. What are the laws for flying a drone in the US?

The most common applicable set of laws for flying a drone is Part 107 (Flying for Work or Business https://www.faa.gov/uas/commercial_operators/). This set of law requires the operator to have an SUAS license, have a registered drone and follow the drone laws that limit drone flying to up to 400 ft AGL, during daylight only and may not fly over people or moving vehicles.  There are additionally special circumstances or restrictions for foreign nationals (international students, visiting scholars), operating on certain public lands, or within certain states or municipalities.

5. Can I fly a personal drone for my research project or my department?

Yes, as long as you comply with UC policy.  Anyone operating under UC policy for university business (regardless of ownership) may additionally be provided with UC UAS liability insurance coverage free of charge.

6. I have a complicated or non-standard scenario. Who should I contact to identify what I need to do?

Please feel free to contact either your campus point of contact or the UC Center of Excellence on UAS Safety. We will work to ensure that there is a path forward for you to conduct your flight activity. We have experience with international UAS regulations, public agency airworthiness certification, night-time operations, airspace authorizations, DOT foreign national operator permits and agricultural spraying certificates to name a few.