Access 5 / UNITE


Certificates of Authorization

Collision Avoidance

Airworthiness Certification

Pilot Certification and Human Factors

MTCR & Export Control


What is the Current Regulatory Status for Civil UAV Commercial Flight?

The International Picture
Cross Atlantic cooperation and coordination for UAV regulation and control coalesced at an invitation only conference between the FAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Eurocontrol, at the annual UAV International Air Show, which was held in conjunction with the Paris Air Show. This meeting resulted in a commitment to coordinate the development and implementation of UAV flight operation standards, policy and regulations. Soon after, senior representatives from the FAA and the EASA met in June of 2005 in Cologne, Germany and announced a plan to begin parallel development of draft UAV Airworthiness Regulations.

Flight International reports on a new European Roadmap, commissioned by UAVNET and the Civil UAV Applications and Economic Effectivity of Potential Configurations (CAPECON). Both organizations formally ended last year. The roadmap projects forecast revenues of $10.5 million in 2006, 15.5 million in 2007 and over $30 million in 2008. This article is a concise summary reflective of the usually excellent Flight International repertorial manner. Once available the full roadmap will be posted on UAVM. UAVNET hosted a workshop in October 2005, and at this link several excellent presentations in PDF format are contained that examine presentations on several aspects of UAV flight in Europe.

EASA’s stated aims are to have a formal policy for UAV certification in place by mid-2006.  An interim advanced notice of proposed amendment (A-NPA) was published for comment on November 5, 2005. The A-NPA addresses UAVs with a gross take-off weight of over 330lb/150kg. Smaller UAVs will be regulated individually by the EU's member countries. EASA's approach will be to tailor the EASA Basic Part 21 regulations for aircraft certification for UAV use.

The Joint Aviation Authority and Eurocontrol, have assembled a UAV Task Force and it has issued its final report. The report (PDF) recommends that UAVs should meet "an equivalent level of safety compared with conventionally manned aircraft".

In the UK aviation flight standards and safety is administered by the Civil viation Authority CAA.

Australia’s' effort in controlling UAVs are governed by the Australia Civil Aviation Safety Regulation Part 101.

The United States and the FAA
Beginning Note: There is a nomenclature change being adopted in the United States changing the UAV moniker to the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) designation. This nomenclature designator started in military UAV operations and has been adopted by the DHS and FAA. The intent of the change is to reflect the reality that these vehicles are in fact complicated systems controlled by human operators. UAVM will use them interchangeably throughout this website because the international community still uses the UAV designator.

All flight in the Unites States National Airspace System is regulated by, or in military use coordinated with, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under jurisdiction granted by law. The FAA regulates flight under the provision of US Public Law codified within Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 - Aeronautics and Space and CFR Title 14 Chapter 1 FAA(DOT) Part 91 General Operating and Flight Rules.(See also Title 14 Chapter 1-5 Database.)

Current FAA UAV policy is specified in AFS-400 UAS Policy 05-01, published on September 16, 2005. Currently (as of Mar 01, 2006), the Airworthiness Certification process for HALE and MALE UAVs is currently the only available track for Civil (Commercial) UAV flight since the review of COAs for civil missions has been placed on hold for all applications except those submitted by the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security.

The primary track to a UAV operations ticket is via the standard Airworthiness Certification Process. Airworthiness Certification specific to UAVs is found on the FAA's website. See also the UAVM page on Airworthiness Certification procedures for additional information.

A secondary track was by obtaining a waiver from the FAA called a Certificate of Authorization (COAs - pr KO-AH) after an airframe has been awarded an interim class of Airworthiness certificate - an Experimental Certification. The only COAs awarded for the US National Airspace System (NAS) are for public use (i.e. - Governmental use). No commercial COAs have been issued since September of 2004 and all non public (Government and Military) COAs are on hold. The only new COA applications being considered are from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. No new civil (commercial) applications are being processed. This is specified in AFS-400 UAS Policy 05-01 which governs existing FAA policy for UAV flight in the NAS.

A New FAA UAS Organization is Created in January 2006

Leading FAA officials in the UAV integration and policymaking effort include Nick Sabatini, FAA Associate Administrator and Tony Fazio, Head of the FAA's Office of Rulemaking. According to Sabatini, "The FAA is treating the A-NPA from EASA as a Strawman Document to help shape common transatlantic thinking". The FAA up until very recently (November 2005) intended to pursue an incremental approach to developing regulations.

Up until January of 2006, the main vehicle for coordinating FAA policy is a headquarters working group, reporting to Nick Sabatini, headed up by Tony Fazio (Head of the Office of Rulemaking). This headquarters group is comprised of senior representatives from the core FAA organizations including Air Traffic Organization (John Timmerman), Aircraft Certification Service (Doug Davis), and Flight Standards (Hank Cabler).

This interim FAA Headquarters Working Group has been replaced as of January 2006, with a new FAA UAS Organization, headed by Mr. Kenneth D. (Doug) Davis, a 26 year FAA veteran, holds the position of Assistant Branch Manager, Avionics Systems, AIR-130 . Mr. Davis has been officially tasked with creating and populating an organization to provide regulatory guidance intended to shephard the introduction of UASs into the NAS. Mr. Davis is currently recruiting to fill his organizational structure.

Up until very recently the FAA was considering a long term (15 year), three stage timeframe. Each step of the plan would have resulted in a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR).
The first would have been SFAR -01 establishing a new visual flight rules (VFR)-based regime to replace the current certificate of authorization (COA) procedure. SFAR-01 will be issued for public comment by 2007. It was intended to set up rules for line of sight operation of UAVs. SFAR-02 was planned to be finished by 2013. SFAR-02 would have opened up the US NAS but it awaited the availability of certified sense and avoid technologies. SFAR-03, expected by 2020, will produce a complete and open environment with no restrictions in the US NAS for UAV operations. The FAA has modified this approach, currently now considering this three step process somewhat simplistic.


The long time frame of UAV integration into the NAS (through 2020) is bumping up against industry pressure to accelerate the regulatory authorization of UAVs for civil commercial use. Further, the increasing requirements of the Department of Homeland Security (for Border Patrol) and the Department of Defense Northern Command airspace requirements, beyond the restricted airspace allocated to the military, are coming into play and changes are being considered to this implementation schema.

Europe's EASA is further along the learning curve and the FAA is looking toward Europe, especially the UK for assistance in drafting regulations for UAVs. The FAA has reviewed the A-NPA from EASA described above.

Strategic changes will soon likely become visible in the form of guidance or policy change, issued by the FAA, to govern use of defined Classes of UAVs.
One classification system is under review and is based on the potential to do damage (i.e.- the size, weight, speed, operational altitude of the UAV), recognizing that different classes have different intrinsic capability to create safety hazards in the air and during an emergency on the ground. These classes will likely be similar to the classification categories used in the EASA A-NPA (final public comment window closes in July 2006) or some combination of the OSD UAS NAS Integration Roadmap and the A-NPA structure (issued Feb 2004). Another classification system under review by the FAA and RTCA is based upon class of airspace the UAS is operating in. In this schema a UAS operating in class G airspace will have a different regulatory  guidance than the same UAS operating in class A airspace. The discussion is ongoing.

The stated goal was to have guidance issued by March - April 2006 governing the use of Small - Light UAVs similar to those governing Sport Aircraft which do not contain cooperative DSA technologies. The timing will slip, perhaps significantly, to the right and may appear in the form of a new policy document AFS 400 UAS Policy 05-02 used to guide COA applications or a revised AC 91-57 or in some other form.

The FAA provides a Regulatory and Guidance Library database for public reference.

It is recognized by regulators that any workable system has to get the FAA out of the everyday loop for small, lightweight UAVs, a class of UAV, when properly operated by certified pilots, and which pose minimal risk to other airmen and people on the ground. The FAA notes that these flying vehicles do not have cooperative DSA and in some instances (sky divers), are not very maneuverable. They do however have ?eyes in the sky? to facilitate see and avoid maneuver.

This is very good news indeed and it is becoming a reality in real time. Small UAVs (SUAVs), in terms of driving the commercial use of UAVs, may turn out to be pivotal to the adoption cycle because adoption in commerce is driven by cost. UAVM concludes that SUAVs will be a major component of the engine of adoption. With the FAA regulatory guidance the UAV industry can begin strategic planning from a firm foundation regarding when flight operations may begin to offset capital investment to date. The regulatory timeline is depicted graphically here.

HALE and MALE UAVs will likely be governed by special experimental Airworthiness Certification regulations similar to that granted to the General Atomics Altair in September 2005 and/or a military airworthiness certificate under which the Global Hawk currently flies. Refer to here for a comprehensive discussion of Airworthiness Certification and Levels of Airworthiness Certitude.

A common FAA process for notification of pilots for temporary restrictions of airspace is the Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs
) and Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) currently employed to facilitate UAV flights for DHS border patrol duty in Arizona. AOPA has justifiably gone on record opposing TFR's as a workable structure to segregate airspace by limiting airspace available to general aviation to accomodate UAVs. The FAA is sympathetic to AOPA's argument however it also is facing pressure from the Administration to accomodate DHS border patrol flight airspace and the nascent civil UAV industry. (Stay Tuned)
UAV Regulatory Timeline
The Graphic at left depicts the proposed timeline for new regulations including both the EASA's A-NPA, NPA regulations and the FAA's SFAR's, coming online to replace the COA application procedure for introducing UAV flight into the US National Airspace System starting in 2007. Click and a full page view will load.

The United States National Airspace System

NASA has recently published a study entitled NASA National Airspace Concept Document (PDF) (Large 2+ Mb). The NASA overview describes the document as "……. the first volume of a two volume "AATT National Airspace System Operational Concept Description." It provides an operational concept for the future National Airspace System (NAS). Volume One defines ten Enhancement Areas based on the NAS service model used by the FAA. The enhancement areas are: System Capabilities, Flight Planning, Separation Assurance, Situational Awareness and Advisory, Navigation and Landing, Traffic Management - Strategic Flow, Traffic Management – Synchronization, Airspace Management, Emergency and Alerting, and Infrastructure/Information Management. "

A comprehensive description of Airspace Classes (A,B,C,D,G) is contained in the FAA's Aeronautical Information Manual in Chapter 3. This is a must read. Chapters Four and Five contain information on Air Traffic Control and Air Traffic Procedures.

A PowerPoint presentation entitled "Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems: Integration into the National Airspace System (NAS)" by the FAA's John Timmerman (July 12, 2005) defines restricted and unrestricted airspace for UAV operations as follows:

“Segregated” Airspace includes:

       Special Use Airspace (SUA)

         Air Traffic Control Assigned Airspace (ATCAA)

       Department of Defense Airspace

“Non-Segregated” Airspace includes:

       Public Use Airspace (UAS) entails that airspace that is currently authorized for UAV flight by the Certificate of Authorization (COA) process. Public Use Airspace includes airspace used in support of the Department of Homeland Security in the Predator B - Border Patrol trials.  

       Civil UAS – using the experimental / type certification process in place.

       Model Aviation – operating with guidance from AC 91-57 dated June 1981 which limits flight to aircraft generally below 100 lbs in weight and flown at flight levels lower than 400 ft in altitude, in locally authorized aerodromes, controlled by RF transmitters restricted to specific frequencies (72 MHz).

        “Other” – a variety of other operations currently believed to be occurring in the public and private sector including but not limited to interpretations of Model Aviation guidelines and others operating with a complete lack or disregard of knowledge of aviation environment requirements and procedures.

Further and Significantly, FAA regulated airspace is devided into several types or classes (A, B, C, D, G)depending on the specific altitude, geographic location (location to airports) and air operations. Chapter three of the FAA's Aeronautic Information Manual describes the Airspace Classification System. This summary of Airspace Basics is a useful primer as is this very helpful descriptive Airspace Classification primer.

Current FAA UAV policy is specified in AFS-400 UAS Policy 05-01, published on September 16, 2005.

The FAA has tasked the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics ( RTCA ) Special Committee SC-203 to assist in making recommendations for standards. RTCA, Inc., is a private, not-for-profit corporation that develops consensus-based recommendations regarding communications, navigation, surveillance, and air traffic management (CNS/ATM) system issues. RTCA is based in Washington DC, and functions as a Federal Advisory Committee. RTCA Special Committee 203 (SC203) is developing three standards entitled Minimum Aviation Performance Standards (MASPS) for UAVs scheduled for delivery in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The ASTM F-38 committee on UAVs is very active in developing “consensus standards” acceptable to all stakeholders in the UAV community. F-38 is agressively developing standards. The current workflow highlights 15 UAS standards that will be completed within 6 months (by July 2006) in addition to two already published. ASTM standards cover Airworthiness Certification (F-38.01), Flight Operations (F-38.02), and Pilot Certification(F-38.03).

UAV MarketSpace is an active member of ATM F-38.

Global Routes
Special Use Airspace 1
Special Use Airspace 2

ACCESS 5  - UAV Flight in 5 Years


NASA received funding in 2004 to begin a project named Access 5, in conjunction with the UAV National Industry Team (UNITE)  formed in 2002, that seeks unrestricted access to the NAS within five years for UAVs operating in the medium (MALE) to high (HALE) altitude NAS.  A comprehensive review of the status and activities of Access 5 and its industry partners in UNITE/aero is discussed on UAVM.

The European equivalent of UNITE/Access 5 is the Euro UAV ICB tasked to ensure that operators of qualified civil, commercial and military UAS can fly their aircraft routinely, safely and reliably in nonsegregated European airspace.

The following documents and quotes provide some sense of the state of the process of setting technical requirements for such areas as collision avoidance, airworthiness certification and pilot qualifications for UAVs. 

Contained within the FAA's General Aviation and Commercial Division FY 2005 AFS-800 Performance Plan , (large 4 Mb) Mr. Phil Potter noted that " trying to introduce these into the National Airspace System (NAS) is to try to get an equivalent to the manned vehicle.  Human performance and the sensor performance are also important.  Another parameter would be operational response". The FAA's 2006 Flight Plan describes the current plan for FAA operations.

In its latest report, 2004 FAA - Research, Engineering and Development Advisory Committee (REDAC), held June 4, 2004, notes that "UAV is an urgent issue that needs research support.  The committee supports the UAV above-target initiative, but does not include UAV weather.  With regard to flight in weather conditions, the committee believes FAA aircraft standards are adequate for design and production of UAVs.  UAV weather capability should be part of the designing and operating certification of UAVs.  .............. Finally, other government organizations should contribute to FAA UAV research."

On related topics, MIT International Center for Air Transportation (ICAT), in support of the FAA, has published Risk Factor Analysis for UAV's based upon size and weight considerations, in 2005 the Safety Considerations for Operations of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the National Airspace Systemand Safety Considerations for Operation of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Civil Airspace. McCarley and Wickens recently published a paper on "Human Factor Concerns in UAV Flight" that discusses "a number of human factors issues related to UAV flight, briefly reviews existing relevant empirical data, and suggests topics for future research."  Site Map