Federal Aviation Administration

Unmanned Aircraft (UAS)

Questions and Answers

What is an unmanned aircraft system (UAS)?

A UAS is the unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the unmanned aircraft.

The UA is the flying portion of the system, flown by a pilot via a ground control system, or autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UA to operate safely. The FAA issues an experimental airworthiness certificate for the entire system, not just the flying portion of the system.

Do I need to get approval from the FAA to fly a model aircraft for recreation?

No. FAA guidance does not address size of the model aircraft. FAA guidance says that model aircraft flights should be kept below 400 feet above ground level (AGL), should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas and full scale aircraft, and are not for business purposes. 1, 2

What is the difference between an Unmanned Aircraft (UA), a Remotely Operated Aircraft (ROA), a Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV), and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle?

Currently the FAA and most of the international community uses the term "UA" or "UAS" for UA System. Previously used terms to identify unmanned aircraft are ROA, RPV, and UAV.

If I fly a UAS for business purposes, such as new technology development, am I required to get approval from the FAA?

Yes. There are presently two methods of gaining FAA approval for flying UAS: Special Airworthiness Certificates - Experimental Category (SAC-EC) for civil aircraft, and Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for public aircraft. 1, 3

What's the difference between public and civil aircraft?

A public aircraft is one that is only for the United States government or owned and operated by the government of a state, the District of Columbia, or a territory or possession of the U. S. or a political subdivision. Operators of public aircraft include DOD, DOJ, DHS, NASA, NOAA, state/local agencies and qualifying universities. Civil aircraft means other than a public aircraft. 1, 4

If I want to operate a civil aircraft, how do I obtain an experimental airworthiness certificate?

The Aircraft Certification Service – Production and Airworthiness Division (AIR-200) at FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C. holds this responsibility and can be reached via email or telephone (202) 385-6346. All questions regarding the process and procedures required to obtain an experimental certificate will be answered by AIR-200. 1, 3, 5

Can I fly a UAS under a COA or experimental certificate for commercial purposes?

No. Currently, there are no means to obtain an authorization for commercial UAS operations in the NAS. However, manufacturers may apply for an experimental certificate for the purposes of R&D, market survey and crew training.

If I want to operate a public UAS, how do I obtain a COA?

The UAS COA process is managed in Washington, DC, FAA Headquarters in the UAS Group (AJV-13). Contact AJV-13 via email for assistance. The process includes opening a COA website account, which has an application that can be populated on-line. Public aircraft are tied to government agencies, therefore credentials must be provided. 3

Are FAA issued pilot certificates required to operate civil UAS?

It depends on where you intend to operate, but in all cases you need to be additionally trained in all specific details of the UA being operated. 3

How long does the process take?

From our experience, depending on the complexity, from 2 months to 1 year.

Is a FAA issued pilot certificate required to operate civil UAS?

Yes. If the aircraft is issued an airworthiness certificate a pilot certificate is required. 3

How long does the process take to obtain an experimental certificate?

From our experience, depending on the system and operational complexity, the process may take from 60 to 90 days.

Is the FAA considering a special type of airspace for UAS?

Currently there are no actions being taken to establish a "special UAS airspace". This "special UAS airspace" would be counter to the idea of integrating unmanned aircraft into the NAS because it would be segregating, not integrating.

What about commercial operations? What are the obstacles to standards, certification, and operating procedures?

All operations conducted in civil airspace must meet minimum levels of safety. Public UA operators have the ability to self-certify their equipment and personnel, but civil operators are certified by the FAA. We believe civil operators will benefit from the collaboration between the FAA and the public operators. Presently, the FAA is drafting a rule to address small UAS.

What do you think the FAA will have to do to address the UAS industry changes and growth?

The UAS industry has grown largely as a result of supporting the defense organizations and this is reflected in the type of systems that have been developed. However, operations in civil airspace have different priorities. Civil performance standards are often more stringent, especially in the areas of reliability. Public expectation for a safe aviation environment drives our very high standards.


  1. Federal Register Notice - Clarification of FAA Policy (PDF), UAS Operations in the U.S. National Airspace System
  2. Advisory Circular 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards
  3. FAA Interim Operational Approval Guidance 08-01 (PDF), Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations in the U. S. National Airspace System
  4. Part A, Subtitle VII of title 49, United States Code, Section 40102, Definitions; and 14 CFR 1.1 General Definitions
  5. FAA Order 8130.34, Airworthiness Certification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Please review these questions and answers, and the Unmanned Aircraft web page. After reading the information on these pages, if you do not find the answer to your specific question, see Who to contact for more information.

Page Last Modified: 07/26/13 12:29 EDT

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