Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) / Drones

Graduate students Sharon Rabinovich, Danny Eliahu and Chris Seruge from Prof. Elkaim's Autonomous System Lab prepare and launch their fixed wing drone, testing its automated flight control software.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, are increasingly being utilized all across university campuses.

Drones are being employed in a wide variety of research and facilities applications such as animal tracking, agriculture, digital archeology, campus surveys, and infrastructure inspections. Students and staff are also increasingly looking to utilize drones for photography, journalism and recreational activities.

University employees who operate University drones must operate them in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Employees who do not operate University drones in accordance with applicable laws and regulations may have no coverage under the University’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Liability Insurance and may be subject to personal liability for any claims or losses arising out of their activities.

 

  

UC CENTER OF EXCELLENCE ON UAS SAFETY

UC is committed to promoting this new technology with forward-thinking policies that also address safety and risk management concerns. The Risk Services at the Office of the President has established the UC Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety at UC Merced to provide expertise, advice, support and training to University employees who want to use UASs. The Center will provide guidance to UC drone users on how to plan operations and activities involving drones so that they comply with new and existing Federal laws and regulations. The Center will also advise users about drone registration, pilot-licensing requirements, and risk management concerns that bear on the safe operation of drones. The Center is authorized to grant approval for University of California UAS operations in the US.

Director Brandon Stark, UC Merced
Email: UASSafety@ucmerced.edu
Email: bstark2@ucmerced.edu
Phone: (209) 201-2051
Website: OPRS: UC UAS Safety
Drone Email List: conact service@riskandsafetysolutions.com to be added to the UC-UAS-RESEARCH-L listserv

 

DRONE USE ON CAMPUS AND FLIGHT OPERATIONS APPROVAL PROCESS

The airspace around UCSC is relatively open compared to other UC campuses. FAA regulations prohibit the use of drones for non-recreational purposes within 5 nautical miles of an airport, Watsonville Airport is well beyond the 5 nautical mile range. It should be noted that all parts of campus are within 5 nautical miles of the Dominican Hospital helipad, drone pilots should always be aware of helicopter traffic.

The general FAA drone flight guidelines apply to UCSC:

  • Fly at or below 400 ft
  • Keep your UAS within sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people and always respect the privacy of others
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • Never fly under the influence
  • Be aware of airspace requirements

Due to the dense tree canopy of upper campus most drone flights are conducted above the lower campus open fields.

 

All of the UC campuses are currently developing procedures that permit employees and students to use drones in a way that increases the probability that their operation will be in accordance with applicable Federal laws and regulations. Flights at UCSC must be reviewed and approved by the UC Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety (UC COE on UAS Safety) to ensure that drone operations are legal and safe. Flight Requests, Flight Reports, and UAS Registration by UCSC personnel are now handled through the UC Drone Web App (see section below for more information).

UCSC personnel who wish to operate a drone must complete the following steps:

1. Obtain a Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) license

Any operator of a small drone, excluding recreational and educational flights, is required to obtain a remote pilot certificate with small UAS rating (Small Drone License). Similar to a driver's license, this license will require the applicant to pass a knowledge test and pass a security vetting. The license fee is $150; this cost is significantly less than a private pilot's license, which was the previous requirement for legal drone operation. Most UC operations would not be considered recreational or educational, please contact the UC COE on UAS Safety for clarification.

Information on the Small Drone License is located on the FAA website.

Additional information on preparing for the Small Drone License exam is available through the UCOP Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety site.

2. Register your University drone with the FAA

Employees and students who operate University UASs in research and educational activities are legally required to register University drones with the FAA. Go to FAA Drone Registration to register your University UAS with the FAA. Drones owned by the University should be registered to “The Regents of the University of California”.

3. Register you drone with the University

After registering the drone with the FAA, University drones must also be registered with the University of California using the UC Drones Tool.

4. Request flight approval

Before conducting flight operations with your UAS you must submit a flight request to the UC COE on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety by using the UC Drones Tool. Requests should be submitted at least one week prior to planned operation for COE personnel to review. Center personnel will review the application information and may suggest changes required by Federal law and regulations or to follow established best practices.
If needed, revise the flight request as guided and resubmit for secondary COE review. Center personnel will issue a final recommendation regarding the proposed UAS flight to UCSC EH&S staff. UCSC EH&S staff will review the Center’s recommendation and either approve the flight request or deny it.

5. Approved flights

Applicant must conduct the flight as planned and comply with Center’s final recommendations. A post flight report should be submitted after all completed operations. Post flight reports can be logged on the UC Drones Tool.

 

Recreational and non-UC affiliate flights  must complete a modified process:

Third party drone operators and non-UC affiliates who do not have a UC email cannot access to the UC Drones Tool.

Non-UC drone operators must still obtain flight approval to fly a drone on campus. A Flight Request application can be completed directly on the UC COE for UAS Safety site. The Center will process the request and respond to the applicant by email.

At the conclusion of a drone flight, non-UC drone operators must complete and submit a Flight Report.

  

UC DRONES ONLINE TOOL & USER GUIDE

The UC Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety (UC COE on UAS Safety) has developed a User Guide for the new UC Drones Web App, sign in and select the Drone symbol). The intent of the Drones App is to streamline the processes that UC employees who operate drones must follow, while ensuring the highest level of safety and regulatory compliance. The Online Tool has the following features:

MANAGE FLIGHT REQUESTS

  • Select a pilot, aircraft, and location; submit flight request.
  • Add comments and attach supplementary files.
  • If your flight operations change, edit flight request info and add documents.
  • Status of your flight request communicated by email.

MANAGE FLIGHT REPORTS

  • Submit a flight report without having to reenter previously entered info.
  • Log abnormal operations or incidents.
  • Log aircraft damage.
  • Reports for completed flights are maintained and can be viewed at any time.

MANAGE PILOT/CREW MEMBER REGISTRATION

  • Register with your campus and input your certificate and qualifications.
  • Update your pilot registration any time.
  • Qualification standards are under development.
  • Crew management features will be added in a future release.

MANAGE AIRCRAFT

  • Register your UAS to person/organization/department and track flight activity.

MANAGE BY WEB APP ADMINISTRATOR

  • Review, approve, or deny flight requests.
  • Register other people as pilots/crew members.
  • Add and manage aircraft.
  • Add comments or documents.

If you have any comments, questions or feature requests, you can submit them to the developers at service@riskandsafetysolutions.com or to the Center at uassafety@ucmerced.edu.