FAA Makes it Easier for Law Enforcement to Fly UAVs

The US government has produced an expedited certificate of authorization process for local law enforcement agencies to operate unmanned aerial vehicles
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The U.S. government has produced an expedited certificate of authorization process for local law enforcement agencies to operate unmanned aerial vehicles.

On May 14, 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration made public the COA within the 90-day deadline that is part of the legislation reauthorizing the agency—the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-95)—which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 14, 2012.

Federal, state and local government entities must obtain a certificate of waiver or authorization (COA) from the FAA before flying an UAV in the national airspace, the agency says. However, the FAA reauthorization requires the agency to enter into agreements with appropriate government agencies to simplify the process for issuing COAs to law enforcement agencies for the operation of UAVs.

Under the streamlined process, COAs will be available for operations within a defined incident perimeter throughout an agency’s jurisdiction. In addition, an automated, web-based process to streamline steps and ensure a COA application is complete and ready for review has been developed, the FAA says.

The length of authorization has also been increased from the current 12-month period to 24 months, the FAA says.

Further, should a law enforcement agency face an emergency situation—such as disaster relief and humanitarian efforts—in which it needs to get an UAV airborne, expedited procedures have been put in place to grant one-time COAs for time-sensitive emergency missions, the FAA says. However, agencies that already have a COA would not have to obtain an emergency COA for a specific mission as long as the agency operates within its existing COA, the agency says.

Nonetheless, a COA will require a UAV be flown more than five miles from any airport or other location with aviation activities, and that the aircraft be operated within the line of sight of the operator when it is in flight at an altitude of less than 400 feet, during daylight conditions and inside Class G (uncontrolled) airspace, the FAA says.

During 2012, the FAA says it will release a proposed rule that will establish policies, procedures and standards for a wide spectrum of UAV use.

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