When the FAA directed the University of Missouri’s Drone Class to discontinue their outdoor labs, they suggested that a Certificate of Authorization (COA) could be requested. COAs are available to public entities that want to fly a drone or UAS in civil airspace.
Common applications for COAs include law enforcement, firefighting, border patrol, disaster relief, search and rescue, military training, and other government operational missions. Applicants make their request through an FAA web portal. Note: To use the portal, you will first need to email the FAA for log-in credentials. The Certificate of Authorization will allow an operator to use a defined block of airspace and includes special provisions unique to the proposed request. For instance, the authorization may limit flight hours or limit flights to line of site operation. Such authorization may be granted for as long as two years. Most COAs require coordination with an appropriate air traffic control facility and may require a transponder on the UAS to operate in certain types of airspace.
From the FAA site: “In most cases, FAA will provide a formal response within 60 days from the time a completed application is submitted.” Although not called out, it appears that waivers associated with an immediate safety need (search and rescue) are initiated via an email request.
As of October of last year, over 1,500 COAs had been issued by the FAA over the past five years. 545 COAs were active on December 4, 2013. Here’s the annual breakdown:
2013 373 (as of October 31)
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the FAA released 55 COAs in February of this year. The FAA has not responded to our request for information on the number of COA requests which have been refused.