As of May 5, 2016, according to a new legal interpretation from the FAA, the use of unmanned aircraft systems by students in accredited education institutions as part of their coursework will be allowed under recreational guidelines for model aircraft, provided the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization. The interpretation also clarifies that UAS can be operated for demonstration purposes at community-sponsored events, provided that the aircraft operator does not receive any compensation, directly or indirectly, related to the operation of the aircraft.
Students can learn how to design, construct and operate small unmanned aircraft (less than 55 pounds) as a component of a variety of science, technology and aviation-related coursework or for other educational purposes such as in connection with television, film or photography courses. These uses fall under hobby or recreational use, according to the FAA’s interpretation, and schools and students should follow all the same protocols as a hobbyist.
This applies only to accredited educational institutions and does not apply to research efforts, which would too closely link operation of the UAS to faculty members’ professional duties and compensation. Likewise, a course instructor can only provide minimal assistance to a student flying a UAS when the primary purpose of the course is not operating the UAS — rather, is focused on design and construction, etc.
Click here to read the FAA’s full interpretation for educational and community use of UAS.