DroneSense Blog

A Guide to FAA Drone Regulations for Public Safety Use

Navigating FAA drone regulations is crucial, and if you’re like most, you’ve probably asked this question: Do I need a license to fly a drone? The short answer is yes, you do need a license to fly a drone for any commercial or public safety purpose.

As drones increasingly become pivotal tools in various public safety domains, from search and rescue missions to aerial surveillance for law enforcement and firefighting, understanding and adhering to FAA guidelines is paramount. The regulatory landscape can often seem labyrinthine, but navigating it successfully is essential for harnessing the full potential of drone technology in public safety. Ultimately, mastering FAA drone regulations is crucial for ensuring optimal public safety operations and maximizing the benefits of drone technology in various emergency response and law enforcement scenarios.

This article aims to clarify these regulations, empowering public safety organizations to leverage drone technology responsibly and effectively, ensuring that their operations are not only innovative but also compliant with national airspace standards.

Navigating the Differences Between Part 107 and COAs for Public Safety Applications

Part 107 and COAs (Certificates of Authorization) are crucial for safely operating drones in public safety, aligning with FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) rules. Part 107 covers the basics for commercial drone pilots, while COAs allow for more specific drone uses, like search and rescue, disaster aid, or police work. Organizations or first responders need to think about how drones will fit into their operations.

A Part 107 drone license is the starting point for commercial pilots, setting the rules for safe drone use. It's not about flying skills but understanding the regulations, including taking a knowledge test every two years. Key rules under Part 107 include flying during daylight or twilight (with possible waivers), staying below 400 feet, and keeping the drone in sight.

For government and nonprofit groups, a COA can provide more flexibility for drone use. It makes the drone program official and accountable to the community. Getting a COA starts with a Public Declaration Letter to the FAA and goes through an online process, including pilot training and medical fitness checks. COA rules allow for night flights, flying in restricted airspace with prior approval, and keeping operations under 400 feet, all while maintaining visual contact with the drone.

Benefits of Having One, or Both

Choosing between Part 107 and a COA depends on the organization's needs, like flying at night or near airports. Part 107 is quicker for small setups, while larger organizations benefit from the thorough COA process. Ideally, first responders should have both, providing maximum flexibility for drone operations.

Costs, risks, and the legalities of public safety flights are important to consider. Though the FAA prefers Part 107 as the standard for now, understanding the details and doing research is essential.

To succeed in getting Part 107 and COAs for public safety, understand the drone licensing process, apply correctly for a COA if needed, and make sure all drone pilots meet Part 107 requirements, including age, background checks, and ongoing training.

Understanding the Waiver Process for Advanced Drone Operations

While Part 107 and COAs provide a robust framework for drone operations in public safety, there are instances where missions require capabilities beyond these standard regulations. For such cases, the FAA has established a waiver process, allowing organizations to conduct operations that are not normally permitted under Part 107 or a specific COA. This process is essential for public safety agencies that need to operate drones in unique circumstances, such as beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), over people, or at night without the limitations typically imposed.

Drones are truly a transformative technology for public safety and beyond. As one of many tools for first responders, their ability to deliver timely decision quality data to stakeholders can often make the difference and lead to more successful outcomes. 

Key Waiver Considerations:

  • Safety Case Preparation: Submitting a waiver request necessitates a thorough safety case that demonstrates how the operation will be conducted safely, despite deviating from standard rules. This includes risk assessments and mitigation strategies.
  • Documentation and Evidence: Applications for waivers must be supported by documentation and evidence of the pilot’s capabilities, the drone’s technical specifications, and any previous operational experience that supports the safety of the proposed operation.
  • Regulatory Knowledge: A deep understanding of the specific regulations from which a waiver is being sought is crucial. Applicants must clearly articulate why the waiver is necessary and how safety equivalency or improvement is achieved.
  • Operational Details: The application must detail the operation, including the purpose, location, time, and how it will be executed within the context of the waiver sought. Specific attention should be paid to how the operation advances public safety objectives.

The Importance of the Waiver Process

This process allows for the flexible application of drone technology in public safety, ensuring that agencies can utilize drones to their fullest potential without being overly restricted by regulations that may not account for all operational scenarios. It fosters innovation and allows for the exploration of new uses for drones, such as using thermal imaging for search and rescue at night or deploying drones for rapid aerial assessments in hazardous conditions that may not be safe for human pilots.

Maximizing Public Safety Operations with DroneSense

Building a drone program with adherence to FAA regulations is just one component of a successful program. The other components involve making smart decisions about hardware and software, and DroneSense can help you take that next step. Our platform was built specifically for first responders from the ground up — and we’re fully committed to supporting and ensuring more positive outcomes in public safety while building greater trust from the communities in which they serve.

Ready to learn more? Reach out to one of our team members to schedule a demo, and let us show you how we can help you streamline your operations.