Civil Operation – Private Industry

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.

Public Operation – U.S. Government Organizations

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 terms that ensure an equivalent level of safety as 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.

Related sites

Certification of Authorization (COA) Sponsors

The following federal, state, or local agencies currently hold or have held a certificate of authorization to operate an unmanned aircraft system between November 2006 and June 30, 2011. April 26, 2012 COA Sponsor List (PDF)