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.

New Flight Request and Post Flight Reporting Forms

Pilots conducting commercial or recreational flights on campus property can now submit their flight request and post flight reports using the new online forms. 


Flight Request

Post Flight Report


See the Vendors and Recreactional Flights sections of this page for more information.

Plan a Flight / Register as a Pilot / Manage Aircraft


UC Drones Online Tool

User Guide

 Getting Started





Drone Use on Campus and Flight Operations 

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. 

Drones operated solely indoors are not regulated by the FAA. "Indoors" is classified as a covered structure that prevents access to the national airspace system. UCSC requires all indoor flight operations to be conducted in a safe and respectful manner.

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).

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 Unmanned Aircraft System (Drone) Policy

The University of California Office of the President has issued a drone policy covering all University-owned Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), all UAS used for University Business and all persons at University Locations operating UAS. The purpose of this Policy is to establish University oversight and minimum record-keeping requirements for UAS, commonly known as drones, as well as Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS) and model aircraft.

The Policy requires that all UAS operations are performed in a manner that mitigates risks to safety, security, and privacy, and ensures compliance with all applicable laws. This includes, but is not limited to, regulations regarding US domestic airspace, international airspace, aircraft registration, and state or other local regulations.

The UC Center of Excellence on UAS Safety has also issued a policy guidance document to assist implementation.

UC Center of Excellence (COE) On UAS Safety

UC is committed to promoting this new technology with forward-thinking policies that also address safety and risk management concerns. Risk Services at the Office of the President 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 provides 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 also advises 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: contact service@riskandsafetysolutions.com to be added to the UC-UAS-RESEARCH-L listserv.

Drone Use on Campus

UCSC staff flying a drone for UC activities:

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 the COE’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.


Academic and Research projects:

Flights for coursework or graduate studies on campus must be approved. Pilots are not required to obtain a Small Drone License but must still follow these steps.

  • Register their drone with the FAA.
  • Obtain appropriate insurance.
    • All pilots flying their own drone must have aviation coverage liability insurance. Membership in a national model aeronautics group, such as the AMA, provides $2.5 million in coverage.
    • University owned drones are covered by the University's Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Liability Insurance.
  • Submit a flight request.
  • Submit a post-flight report.


Vendors flying on behalf of UCSC:

  • Obtain/Possess a Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) license
  • Register your drone with the FAA
  • Submit a flight request


Recreational flights:

All recreational flights on campus must be approved and have a UCSC sponsor. Pilots are not required to obtain a Small Drone License but must still follow these steps.

  • Register their drone with the FAA.
  • Obtain appropriate insurance.
    • All recreational pilots must have aviation coverage liability insurance. Membership in a national model aeronautics group, such as the AMA, provides $2.5 million in coverage.

UC Drones Online Tool and User Guide

The UC Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety (UC COE on UAS Safety) has developed a detailed 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:


  • Select a pilot, aircraft, location, and a range of flight dates; submit project request.
  • Submidt flight requests without having to reenter previously entered info.
  • Flights under an approved projects can be added without added approval.
  • Add comments and attach supplementary files.
  • Status of your project request communicated by email.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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


  • 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 COE at uassafety@ucmerced.edu.