Can Public Safety Agencies even use an UAV?
This used to be a much more complicated process, but thanks to new UAV regulations, it has gotten much simpler to establish a UAV program for your agency.
There are three ways to fly drones legally: As a hobbyist, as a commercial operator under Part 107 regulations, and as a public agency under a Certificate of Authorization.
As a public agency operator, the first step is to get a letter from your city, county or jurisdictional attorney to the FAA, certifying that you are a public agency. Once this letter is received by the FAA, they will send you back login information for the COA system, and your journey begins.
There are two main parts to the COA process - the blanket COA, and the jurisdictional COA.
The blanket COA covers your department to operate in Class G airspace, during the day, within visual line of sight of the operator, and under 400 feet above ground. This allows you to get operational very quickly, and the blanket COA is portable anywhere in the country in Class G airspace.
The next step is to obtain your jurisdictional COA, which covers your jurisdiction, whatever type of airspace it falls under, and at nighttime. This can be a lengthy process, involving significant back and forth between the requesting agency, the FAA and local air traffic control officials. Once this COA is approved, you are covered under the circumstances set forth in your COA for a period of 2 years, with the option to renew for another 2. At that point, you must reapply for a new COA.
The training requirement to comply with a COA has changed from a very prescribed process to one of self-certification. This means you as the requesting agency have the ability to determine what the appropriate level of training for your operators should be. This gives you a great deal of flexibility in your training options, but also makes the training process very subjective. Skyfire has training options that will help you self-certify in confidence!
A brief note about Part 107, the regulatory framework that covers commercial operators. Under certain circumstances, you can declare your program a civil operation, and operate under Part 107. We have outlined here some of the reasons why this is not the recommended course of action, but should you choose to go that route, you will be required to take a Remote Pilot in Command written test at an FAA-authorized testing location. The approximate cost for this test is $150, but is determined locally by the testing facility. This certification is valid for two years, and must be renewed at the end of that period by taking another written test. A TSA background check is also required for certification under Part 107.