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    Safe Use of Drones on College and School Campuses

    Schools and colleges regularly use drones for education, campus security, and promotional videography, but the increased presence of drones on campus adds to the potential for liability. In response to the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) clarified its guidelines for the registration and use of drones. With this new clarification, educational institutions can more easily register their drones and create comprehensive policies.

    What Is a Drone?

    Drones are unmanned aircraft flown by a pilot on the ground, usually using hand-held navigation equipment that displays a live video feed from the aircraft, which is often recorded. They range in size and capabilities, but most can provide aerial views and transport small cargo.

    Educational institutions use drones for research and videography. For example, some colleges record aerial views of their campuses for promotional purposes or tape athletic and marching band practices for review by coaches and band leaders. Drones are also used to conduct rooftop inspections and map building sites. With personal drones becoming more common and affordable, students and visitors are bringing them to campus, thus complicating efforts to regulate use. 

    FAA Drone Registration

    The FAA is responsible for regulating and overseeing the use of all aircraft, including drones. All drones weighing more than .55 pounds must be registered via an FAA online system.

    FAA regulations allow anyone over age 16 to register a drone provided they pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center. After passing the test, the drone pilot can complete an online application to receive a Remote Pilot Certification. Certified pilots can register their drones at the FAADroneZone by selecting “Fly sUAS under Part 107.”

    Most students, even those 16 and under, can fly drones under the less restrictive Special Rule for Model Aircraft. Fliers whose operations meet the requirements can operate a drone without certification, though the drone owner must still register with the FAA. Although the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 formally repealed the special rule, the FAA continues to implement it. 

    Creating a Policy

    Despite their many positive uses, drones can cause property damage, injure people, and invade privacy. When creating your institution’s policy:

    • Ensure your policy complies with federal law and any state laws on drone use. For example, the FAA restricts flights over stadiums with a seating capacity over 30,000 people during NCAA Division I football games from one hour before, until one hour after, the game. Also, the FAA requires that airport operators and air traffic control towers receive prior notice of drone flights within five miles of the airport. The airport may deny such flights.
    • Determine what type of drones will be permitted and the training necessary to operate them. Institutions such as Columbia University require prior approval for drones that are not institution owned and operated. Specify institutional sanctions for noncompliance or government sanctions for illegal drone use.
    • Identify restrictions on location, height, weight, and speed of drone use. Also, consider using signage to alert the campus community about these restrictions.
    • Check that appropriate insurance is in place to cover accidents; general liability policies typically exclude aircraft.
    • Publicize the drone policy via email, news releases, and signage. Educate new students and staff on the policy and the application process during orientation.

    By following FAA guidelines and creating drone policies, educational institutions can increase the use of innovative technology while continuing to prevent risk.

    Sample Policies

    Indiana University

    Auburn University Gameday Drones Policy

    Columbia University

    Klein Independent School District

    Riverside Unified School District


    FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Website

    FAA Smartphone App – B4UFLY

    Drone Registration

    By Melanie Bennett, risk management counsel