All about the COA's

By far the most common question we get at Skyfire is, "What is a COA, and how do I get one?" So let’s clear it up here.

A COA, or Certificate of Authorization, is a declaration from the FAA of your ability to operate a drone in the National Airspace.

In the past, before Part 107 allowed commercial operators to get certified by taking a test, they were required to obtain a specific exemption to fly and operate under a civil COA; but when you hear the term COA now, it specifically refers to a public agency COA.

Public COAs are designed specifically for public agencies - police departments, fire departments, public universities and the like - and will not be granted to anybody other than a public agency. This is why the first step in obtaining a COA is for your jurisdiction’s attorney to write a “public declaration letter” to the FAA, certifying that you are in fact a public agency.

COAs come in two flavors - the blanket COA and the jurisdictional COA.

The blanket COA covers an agency to operate in uncontrolled airspace (Class G), under 400 feet above ground, within line-of-sight between drone and operator, and in daylight only. It also allows for nighttime operations with specific requirements for nighttime lighting. The blanket COA is good for the entire continental United States, providing that you’re flying in uncontrolled airspace.

The second type of COA, the jurisdictional COA, covers you for your entire jurisdiction, whatever the airspace. This type of COA would be required if you have any controlled airspace (Classes B, C, D or E surface areas), and is valid for that jurisdiction only, however you draw it.

Due to the non-specific geography of a blanket COA, they are often approved very quickly, whereas jurisdictional COAs can take 2-3 months, depending on how complex the airspace you’re requesting to fly in.

Both are good for two years and are renewable for another two. You must reapply after four years.

COAs now come with a “self-certification” training model, meaning any training you deem appropriate as a public agency will suffice. They also allow operators to medically self-certify, without input from an FAA-certified Aviation Medical Examiner.

In cases where you may be requested to operate under a mutual aid agreement, you will be covered under your blanket COA if the mutual aid area is in uncontrolled airspace. If that airspace is controlled, you have the option of requesting a “Special Governmental Interest” waiver, which can be approved in as little as an hour, to allow you to fly.

If you are interested in finding out more about COAs, how to apply, and what type of training is best, don’t hesitate to contact our COA experts at Skyfire.