For public operation, the FAA issues a Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA) that permits public agencies and organizations to operate a particular UA, for a particular purpose, in a particular area. The FAA works with these organizations to develop conditions and limitations for UA operations to ensure they do not jeopardize the safety of other aviation operations. The objective is to issue a COA with parameters that ensure a level of safety equivalent to manned aircraft. Usually, this entails making sure that the UA does not operate in a populated area and that the aircraft is observed, either by someone in a manned aircraft or someone on the ground. Common uses today include law enforcement, firefighting, border patrol, disaster relief, search and rescue, military training, and other government operational missions.
Applicants make their request through an online process. After a complete application is submitted, FAA conducts a comprehensive operational and technical review. If necessary, provisions or limitations may be imposed as part of the approval to ensure the UA can operate safely with other airspace users. In most cases, FAA will provide a formal response within 60 days from the time a completed application is submitted.
The COA allows an operator to use a defined block of airspace and includes special provisions unique to the proposed operation. For instance, a COA may require flying only under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and/or only during daylight hours. COAs usually are issued for a specific period—up to two years in many cases.
Most COAs require coordination with an appropriate air traffic control facility and may require a transponder on the UAS to operate in certain types of airspace.
Because UAS technology cannot currently comply with "see and avoid" rules that apply to all aircraft, a visual observer or an accompanying "chase plane" must maintain visual contact with the UAS and serve as its "eyes" when operating outside airspace restricted from other users.
Please email the FAA/UAS office at 9-AJR-36-UAS@faa.gov with any questions or for more information regarding Certificates of Waiver or Authorization.
- Clarification of June 13, 2014 Interpretation on Research Using UAS (PDF), July 3, 2014
- UAS Operations by Public Universities for Aeronautical Research (PDF), June 13, 2014
- Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA), ATA UAS description of the COA process.
- COA Online System, used by applicants to request a COA. Applicants must obtain an account to access the system.
- Special Airworthiness Certificate, Experimental Category or COA, information to help you determine which applies to your operation.