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Unmanned Aircraft Systems Frequently Asked Questions Banner

Frequently Asked Questions

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    Q. What is an unmanned aircraft system (UAS)?
    A. An unmanned aircraft system is an unmanned aircraft and the equipment necessary for the safe and efficient operation of that aircraft. An unmanned aircraft is a component of a UAS. It is defined by statute as an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft (Public Law 112-95, Section 331(8)).

    For the purpose of EC 1110-1-109, an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) is defined as a remotely piloted/operated, semi-autonomous, or autonomous air vehicle and its onboard operating system. A UAS is comprised of individual elements consisting of the UAV, the control station, and any other support elements necessary to enable operation including, but not limited to data links, communications systems/links, and UAV-unique launch and recovery equipment. There may be multiple unmanned aircraft, control stations, and support elements within a UAS. The control station may be located on the ground (stationary or mobile), on a ship, submarine, aircraft, etc.

    Q. Is a UAS the same as a model aircraft?
    A. Congress defined a "model aircraft" as a UAS that meets all of the following:

    • Is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere
    • Is flown within visual line-of-sight of the person operating it
    • Is flown for hobby or recreational purposes

    Q. Have USACE District Commanders permitted UAS use for recreation and commercial use at civil works water resource development projects?

    • Yes. For District Policy Memorandum examples in which the District Commander, or a delegated authority, has permitted the use of UAS, visit the Policy & Procedure link.
    • A special use permit, consistent with EC 1130-2-550, Chapter 9, and 36 CFR, Chapter III, Part 327.18, will be issued for commercial UAS operation and may be required at the District Commander's discretion for private recreation/hobby operation.
    • For additional information, reference section 15. The Use of UAS Systems by the Public or Commercial Organizations and Other Federal, State and Local Governments and Law Enforcement Agencies at USACE Projects (beginning page 19) of EC 1110-1-109 .

    Q. What considerations should be taken when attempting to define a UAS designated area?
    A. Considerations wll include, but are not limited to:

    • safety and security risk to USACE infrastructure and operation of the project
    • Designated areas should be further than 500 feet from operational areas. Operational areas are defined as land on which project operational structures are located (i.e. dams, hydropower plants, administrative and maintenance buildings, visitor centers and associated support facilities).
    • safety and security risk to staff, visitors, environmental features, and wildlife
    • potential user conflicts
    • all private and public recreational/hobby and/or commercial use of UAS must satisfy all FAA requirements, applicable state and local laws, and USACE regulations
    • FAA have requirements for flights within five miles of airports (including heliports and sea-base airports):
    • Regardless of locations designated for UAS operations under 36 CFR 327.4(b), UAS operations should be restricted on project lands when force protection condition (FPCON) level rises to FPCON CHARLIE OR DELTA.

    Q. What actions should be taken if a UAS is operated in a non-authorized location, involves criminal activity, and/or poses a significant threat or security concern?
    A. UAS Operation that involves criminal activity, poses a significant threat or poses a security concern:
    Incidents involving UAS operations must be reported when one or more of the following conditions is satisfied:

    1. Criminal activity (including terrorism) has occurred or is reasonably suspected;
    2. The operation poses a significant threat or security concern to project features, or to the safety of the public or government employees;
    3. A mishap involving a USACE-operated UAS occurs, to include accidents, collisions, and like events.

    Reportable incidents include circumstances such as when a USACE employee receives a report of the above types of UAS activity from a visitor, from another agency or from within USACE, or from state or local law enforcement personnel. The recreational or hobby use of UAS equipment, including the operation of traditional model aircraft by aero-modelers and other hobbyists, will not be reported unless one of the above conditions is satisfied. Likewise, UAS operations on project lands, even when outside of areas designated under 36 CFR 327.4(b), will not be reported unless one of he above conditions is satisfied.

    Reference section 14. UAS Incident Reporting (beginning page 17) of EC 1110-1-109 provides guidance reporting procedures for UAS operations that meet at least one of the above conditions. Also reference:

    UAS Operation that does not involve a criminal activity, pose a significant threat, or pose a security concern, BUT is operated in a non-authorized location:
    Each USACE element should consider the potential presence of non-USACE UAS in their plans and planning meetings to correctly and quickly address situations when develop. Creating plans, completing consultations, identifying partners, generating public awareness messaging, and developing trainings are important for being able to respond to non-authorized UAS operation.

    Even if unapproved UAS operations occur, but do not satisfy one of the three conditions listed above, reporting to local law enforcement or other agencies may be necessary. Also, see the next question listed above concerning the issue of airspace.

    Reference Section 13. Planning for non-USACE UAS Operations by the Public (beginning page 16) of EC 1110-1-109 provides guidance that is helpful in establishing a projects UAS response and management of public UAS operation.

    The restriction in 36 CFR 327(b) does not apply to aircraft engage on official business of Federal, state or local governments or law enforcement agencies, aircraft used in emergency rescue consistent with the directions of the District Commander, or aircraft forced to land due to circumstances beyond the control of the operator.

    Q. Can USACE restrict the airspace over Corps land and water? Can USACE enforce regulations if the UAS operator is flying in airspace over USACE land and water that is prohibited by the District Commander, but the operator is located off USACE property?
    A. To restrict airspace above USACE project lands, the FAA must designate the airspace as a no fly zone. Requesting that airspace be restricted and establishing "no fly zones" over USACE project lands through the FAA must be coordinated with the Aviation Program Manager (APM). USACE may regulate UAS operations while an individual is physically on USACE property; the mechanism to restrict or allow UAS operations on USACE property is by designating areas appropriate for operations under 36 CFR 327.4. Otherwise, the FAA has jurisdiction over the airspace including over USACE-managed property. USACE is responsible to enforce 36 CFR Part 327 concerning individuals present on project lands, but is not otherwise responsible to enforce UAS operations in the FAA regulated airspace over USACE-managed property. To restrict "UAS flyovers" of airspace above USACE-managed property, the USACE element must obtain airspace restriction from the FAA.

  • Reference section 15. The Use of UAS Systems by the Public or Commercial Organizations and Other Federal, State and Local Government and Law Enforcement Agencies at USACE Projects (beginning page 19) of EC 1110-1-109
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