For civil operation, applicants may obtain a Special Airworthiness Certificate, Experimental Category by demonstrating that their unmanned aircraft system can operate safely within an assigned flight test area and cause no harm to the public. Applicants must be able to describe how their system is designed, constructed and manufactured; including engineering processes, software development and control, configuration management, and quality assurance procedures used, along with how and where they intend to fly. If the FAA determines the project does not present an unreasonable safety risk, the local FAA Manufacturing Inspection District Office will issue a Special Airworthiness Certificate in the Experimental Category with operating limitations applicable to the particular UAS.

The FAA has been working for several months to implement the provisions of Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, "Special Rules for Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems," which will allow for commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments. Read more about Section 333.