The use of a small unmanned aircraft system (i.e. drone) is subject to federal regulations promulgated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at 14 CFR Part 107 (https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/part-107). Students wishing to participate in a drone-related program or activity, must inquire with the Dean of Students Office to receive further information and instruction.
Restrictions on drone operations are summarized at https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/part_107_summary.pdf, and include, but are not limited to:
- Aircraft must weigh less than 55 pounds;
- Operator must maintain a visual line of sight at all times;
- Visual line of sight may not be aided by any device except corrective lenses;
- May not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, or not inside a covered stationary vehicle;
- Daylight operations only;
- Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level; and
- No operations from a moving vehicle.
Concerning the regulatory restrictions on operating a drone over people, the federal regulations elaborate as follows.
14 CFR § 107.39 Operation over human beings.
No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless that human being is:
- Directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft; or
- Located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.
The FAA explains operating “over people” as follows: The term “over” refers to the flight of the small unmanned aircraft directly over any part of a person. For example, a small UAS that hovers directly over a person’s head, shoulders, or extended arms or legs would be an operation over people. Similarly, if a person is lying down, for example at a beach, an operation over that person’s torso or toes would also constitute an operation over people. An operation during which a small UAS flies over any part of any person, regardless of the dwell time, if any, over the person, would be an operation over people.
Currently, FAA regulations require a waiver in order to operate a drone over people in a manner other than that which is permitted under the regulations. In February 2019, the FAA issued proposed changes to its regulations concerning drone operations, including to Section 107.39, which would permit drone operation over people without a waiver under certain circumstances. The rule making comment period ended on April 15, 2019, and final rules are expected later this summer. Until then, the current restrictions imposed under Section 107.39 remain effective.