Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for Airport Operators

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) below provide airport operators with an understanding of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operations from an airport perspective.

For answers to general UAS questions, such as “What is the definition of an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)?” or “What is a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA)?”, please visit the FAA UAS FAQs. We strongly encourage reviewing the general FAQs in conjunction with those below as the information is complementary and meant to be read together as guidance to all users of the national airspace system.

These FAQs identify:

  • The types of UAS activity in the United States National Airspace System (NAS).
  • The approvals necessary for UAS operators to use the NAS.
  • Best practices to safely integrate UAS operations at an airport.
  • Actions the airport operator can take if a UAS is being operated in manner that could endanger the safety of the NAS.

You can find further background information and supporting information at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA‘s) UAS website.

UAS are permitted users of the National Airspace System (NAS), just like any existing manned aircraft flight. Congress confirmed in Public Law 112-95, the FAAModernization and Reform Act of 2012, that UAS are aircraft consistent with the statutory definition of an aircraft as set forth in Title 49 of U.S.C §40102(a) (6). This means that UAS operators can utilize the NAS as long as the operator of the UASmeets all applicable laws and regulations and operates the UAS in a safe manner.

The FAA‘s goal is to safely integrate UAS into the NAS. Safety of the NAS is enhanced when the operator of a UAS and the airport operator coordinate prior to a UAS flight on or near an airport. This coordination enhances integration into the NAS by:

  • Allowing the airport operator to help the operator of the UAS aircraft understand the areas of manned aircraft flight near the airport, reducing the potential for conflicts between UAS activities and manned aircraft flights;
  • Allowing the airport operator to understand the proposed parameters of the UAS activities for situational awareness and coordination with airport tenants and users as necessary;
  • Allowing the airport operator to advise the UAS operator of unique manned aircraft activities near the airport (e.g., parachute activities, glider activities, etc.);
  • Allowing the airport operator to understand where UAS activities on or near the airport are occurring; and
  • Encouraging coordination of the airport sponsor with the local Air Traffic Control (ATC) facilities, Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), and Airports District Office (ADO), and local law enforcement.

While these FAQs will help the airport operator understand UAS use of the NAS, they are also intended to assist the airport operator in safely integrating these new users into the NAS.


    1. Does the FAA need to issue a COA for a UAS operation from an airport?

Yes. For both public UAS operations and civil UAS operations, the FAA issues a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that permits the operation ofa particular aircraft, for a particular purpose, in a particular area. Therefore, the COA would specifically authorize the public or civil UAS operation from an airport. The FAA conducts a safety assessment to determine that specific types of operations can be conducted safely in these instances. The COA also includes safety mitigations to ensure no adverse safety effect to other users of the NAS.

A civil UAS operator that wants to operate outside the limits of the “blanket COA“, such as operating from an airport or within otherwise prohibited distances from an airport, must apply for and obtain a separate COA specific to the proposed flight on or near an airport. These are sometimes referred to as a “full COA“. This type of COA will provide specific details and parameters of the permitted operation. Please note that the documentation for the “blanket COA” and the “full COA” may initially appear to be very similar and the FAArecommends obtaining the entire COA documentation from the UAS operator for review.

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    1. What is required for public UAS operations on or near my airport?

The public UAS operator needs a COA issued by the FAA.

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    1. What is required for civil UAS operationson or within 5 nautical miles of my airport?The civil UAS operator must have the following:
      • A Section 333 exemption;
      • A “full COA” issued by the FAA that authorizes the UAS to operate from or near your airport; and
      • An executed letter of agreement with the airport sponsor.

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    1. Why is a civil UAS operator asking for me to enter into a Letter of Agreement (LOA)?

The Section 333 grant of exemption requires the civil UAS operator to obtain a letter of agreement from the airport operator when the UAS flight is within 5 nautical miles of the airport reference point.

In seeking the LOA, the UAS operator is working with the airport operator to outline in the LOA the operational needs of the UAS on or near the airport. The current FAA Policy to require the LOA is intended in part to assist in the safe integration of the UAS into the NAS by allowing the airport sponsor to increase the UAS operator’s understanding of the unique characteristics of the airport which ultimately helps the UAS operator plan and conduct a safe flight. Please coordinate with the airport traffic control, if one is located at the airport, when preparing the LOA.

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    1. A UAS operator proposes to operate from my airport.  What questions could I ask the operator of a UAS?
      1. What is your name and contact information?
      2. Ask for a complete copy of the operator’s COA, Section 333 Exemption (if civilian-owned), and registration certificate. Please note that both the Public UAS operator and civil UAS operator need a COA that specifically authorizes operations from or near your airport. A civil UAS operator cannot operate from or near an airport with a “blanket COA“; this UAS operator must have a “full COA” issued by the FAA in order to operator from or near an airport. Please see Question 1 above.
      3. What are you flying (Make/Model)?
        1. Is there additional support equipment needed?
        2. What is the color of the UAS?
        3. What is the weight of the UAS?
        4. What are your lost link procedures?
      4. Do you need access to runways/taxiways?
        1. If not, where on the airport property do you want to fly?
      5. When will you be conducting operations and for how long?
      6. At what altitude will you be flying (maximum)?
      7. Who can we contact while the UAS is in flight? How do we contact your while you are operating the UAS? Please note that not all COAs require aviation radios for communication or contact with air traffic, so consider other methods of contact such as a mobile phone.
      8. Describe how you intend to use the airport and airspace around the airport.

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    1. What safety factors should I consider for a UAS operating from my airport?The specific type of UAS activity planned for an airport will dictate the safety factors necessary to integrate the UAS into existing airport activities. Safety factors you can consider include, but are not limited to:
      1. Runway safety. Coordinate with the UAS operator to ensure that controls are in place to prevent runway incursion.
      2. Safety of ground operations.  Determine if the UAS operator needs access to runway or taxiway surfaces to launch and recover the UAS.  If access is needed, ensure proper controls are in place to ensure the safety of ground operations in the aircraft operational areas. Ensure the UASoperator is properly trained. Refer to FAA Advisory Circular 150/5210-20A, Ground Vehicle Operations to include Taxiing or Towing an Aircraft on Airports, for more information. If the UAS operator wants to use movement areas on the airport with an Airport Traffic Control Tower, the specifics of the use of the movement area will be included in the COA document or a separate Letter of Agreement with the ATCT.
      3. Maintain the airfield open and operational for other users of the NAS. Keeping the airfield operational areas clear for UAS support vehicles and activities. Designate areas acceptable for the remotely-located pilot that are not in areas on the airfield that are needed to enhance airfield safety such as the runway safety areas, taxiway safety areas, object free areas, etc.
      4. Communication. Coordinate with the UAS operator and the local Airport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) (if applicable) on the specific types of radio communications for the proposed UAS operation. For example, what is the phraseology that is being used during the UAS operation to communicate with the ATCT or on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) or Unicom? Please note that not all COAs require aviation radios for communication or contact with air traffic.
      5. Coordinate with other airport stakeholders. The UAS operation is different from the typical manned operations at the airport. Consider outreach and other methods to make other aeronautical users to become aware of and anticipate this particular use on the airport.
      6. Facilitate coordination with the local airport traffic control tower (if one is located at the airport) and the UAS operator on operational requirements while the UAS is in flight.

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    1. What topics could I consider for inclusion in a LOA?

Since the COA and the Section 333 grant of exemption outline the requirements for operating in the NAS, the LOA does not to need to consider these areas. You may want to focus the LOA on ground access and runway safety for the UAS operation and outline how the user will operate safely with other aeronautical users at the airport. Refer to airport-specific safety considerations listed in question number 10 above. You should also coordinate the terms of any LOA with your FAA Air Traffic Manager, if an Airport Traffic Control Tower is located at your airport.

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    1. What additional approvals may be required for a UAS to operate from an airport?

Depending on the operational requirements of the UAS and the answers to the questions listed above in Question 5, the Airport may need additional FAAcoordination. For example:

      1. If the UAS user needs to install any support equipment on airport property (e.g., a communications tower), you must file a 7460-1, Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration, and obtain an Airspace Determination from the FAA prior to construction.
      2. If the UAS user needs a separate landing and takeoff area that is not currently designated at the airport, you will need to update the Airport Layout Plan (ALP) and submit FAA form 7480, Notice for Construction, Alteration and Deactivation of Airports, and obtain an Airport Space Determination from the FAA authorize this activity.
      3. If the proposed UAS activity requires a change to the ALP (e.g., installation of support equipment, changes to land use, construction of buildings or aprons, etc.), you may need to obtain an environmental determination from the FAA in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

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    1. Can I prohibit a public UAS Operator from operating from my airport?

You cannot prohibit a public UAS operator that has received a COA from the FAA that authorizes the public UAS operator to operate from your airport. As detailed above, a COA for a public UAS Operator is location-specific. A public UAS Operator who has not received a COA from the FAA is not authorized to operate in the NAS and is not authorized to operate from your airport.

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    1. What rules must the operator of public UAS or civilian UAS follow when operating from my airport?

A UAS operator must comply with the rules outlined in 14 CFR part 91, except those rules from which Public Aircraft Operators are exempt. Additionally, the user must follow the rules and requirements of the user’s specific COA, if publicly-operated, or Section 333 grant of exemption and COA, if civilian-operated.

The UAS operator must also file a NOTAM when the UAS is in operation.

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    1. Should UAS operators pay fees to use my airport?

Yes. Transient UAS operators (UAS operators not based at the airport) are expected to pay fees and rates commensurate to other similarly situated transient users of the airport (e.g., landing fees, tie-down fees, fuel flowage fees, etc.).  UAS operators who seek to base the aircraft at the airport are subject to a fee and rental structure that is applicable to other similarly situated based aircraft tenants, including ground and/or hangar lease rates.

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    1. What should I do if I see a UAS being operated in a manner that could interfere with manned aircraft flight or other uses (e.g., skydiving, etc.)?Airport operators have an important responsibility to keep the airport and the surrounding areas free from hazards that could impact the safe operation of the airport. Airport operators are also in a unique position to observe and identify activity near an airport that could impact the safety of the NAS. Accordingly, if you observe a UAS being operated in a manner that interferes with manned aircraft flight or other uses at your airport:
      • Contact your local law enforcement agency to detect and immediately investigate and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions to stop the use. Refer to FAA Guidance for Law Enforcement.
      • Notify the FAA’s 24 hour Regional Operations Center (ROC). Find ROC contact information.
      • To assist in the investigation of the event, the airport operator may wish to:
        • Keep good documentation of the time/location of the event.
        • Record activity, if possible.
        • Attempt to determine the type of activity.
        • Be vigilant is ascertaining the frequency and locations of activity.
        • If there is an ATCT, coordinate with them to determine location/potential impact to the airport’s operation.

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    2. Does the FAA provide guidance on local and state regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)?

Yes, the FAA has a fact sheet on state and local regulation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that provides information for states and municipalities considering laws or regulations addressing UAS use. The document outlines the safety rationale for federal oversight of aviation and airspace, and explains federal responsibility in this area.

The fact sheet provides examples of state and local laws affecting UAS for which consultation with the FAA is recommended, such as restrictions on flight altitude or flight paths, regulation of the navigable airspace, and mandating UAS-specific equipment or training.

The fact sheet also gives examples of UAS laws likely to fall within state and local government authority, such as requirements for police to obtain a warrant prior to using UAS for surveillance; prohibitions on the use of UAS for voyeurism; exclusions on using UAS for hunting or fishing, or harassing individuals engaged in those activities; and prohibitions on attaching firearms or other weapons to a UAS.

UAS Fact Sheet

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  1. Who should I call if I have questions?

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