FAA Scraps Exemption Requirement for Student Drone Operations

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that students will no longer need federal authorization to operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for strictly educational and research purposes.

According to an FAA memorandum, “A person may operate an unmanned aircraft for hobby or recreation in accordance with Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 at educational institutions and community-sponsored events, provided that person is not compensated or any compensation received is neither directly nor incidentally related to that person’s operation of the aircraft at such events.”

The FAA feels that a student’s “learning how to operate and use a UAS” falls into Section 336’s “model aircraft” definition in that the practice is not a commercial operation and, therefore, does not require a Section 333 exemption.

In addition, the agency feels drone-flying education promotes safe operations; “advances UAS-related knowledge, understanding and skills;” and is beneficial to coursework in subjects such as science, technology, aviation, and arts and film.

However, because teachers are being compensated, their drone operations would not be considered recreational; therefore, the FAA says, they “may provide limited assistance” to the flights unless they hold federal authorization.

“Schools and universities are incubators for tomorrow’s great ideas, and we think this is going to be a significant shot in the arm for innovation,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who made the announcement this week at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s (AUVSI) XPONENTIAL in New Orleans.

In a blog, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) says, “AMA applauds the FAA for making it clear that students can use UAS, including model aircraft, for educational purposes. For years, model aircraft have been used for science, technology, education and math (STEM) education without burdensome requirements on teachers and students.”

Brian Wynne, AUVSI’s president and CEO, who calls the news encouraging, notes, “UAS are an exciting way to promote STEM education, and wider use among young people will no doubt inspire the next generation of UAS operators and aviators.”


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