The last several years have seen a substantial increase in the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at American colleges and universities. UAS have a wide variety of official campus applications, such as scientific research, public safety, and marketing photography and video. But Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations limit the use of UAS for commercial (including certain academic and research) purposes. And while many students fly UAS recreationally, the rights of recreational fliers may conflict with the privacy and safety interests of other members of the campus community as well as academic property-use and privacy policy guidance. Given the potential legal ramifications of violating FAA regulations and the need to balance competing interests on campus regarding UAS use, it is important that institutions understand the current regulatory environment, and craft and implement policies to ensure UAS are used in an appropriate manner.

While there is no single “best” UAS policy applicable to all institutions, UAS policies should address a number of key areas, including:

  • The process the institution will use to review and approve the official use of UAS by its employees and agents to ensure compliance with pertinent FAA, state and local regulations.
  • A process by which UAS operations are to be de-conflicted with other scheduled institutional event (such as sporting events).
  • Coordinating UAS flights with local law enforcement and emergency personnel.
  • Reporting of damage or injury caused by institutional UAS flights.
  • A general code of conduct governing the use of UAS by students and others for recreational purposes, including any desired geographic and temporal restrictions on recreational use.
  • Marriage of UAS policy with other pertinent institutional policies, such as policies governing privacy and video surveillance.
  • Measures the institution may impose for violation of the institution’s UAS policy.

What this means to you

UAS are no longer a novelty on college and university campuses. Leadership should assess the nature and manner in which UAS are to be used by the institution and the campus community and enact appropriate policy to ensure such use is legal, safe, and consistent with the institutions standards and expectations.