Choosing Between a COA and Part 107 Certification
According to the FAA, federal, state, and local government offices can fly UAVs to support specific missions, such as search and rescue, under either the FAA’s Part 107 rule or by obtaining a COA.
This means that, if you work at a police or fire department, you can fly under either a COA or under the Part 107 rule.
Operating under the FAA’s Part 107 rule means that the drone pilot or pilots who will be conducting operations for your public agency each need to take the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test (also called the Part 107 test) and obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate, as well as complying with the other requirements listed in the Part 107 rule.
On the other hand, obtaining a COA means submitting an application to the FAA and waiting to receive authorization for your police or fire department’s proposed UAV operations.
So which one is right for your organization?
Part 107 Considerations
On the one hand, if you’re trying to get your drone program going quickly Part 107 certification can generally be obtained faster than a COA.
Many public agencies we’ve spoken with chose to obtain both a COA and Part 107 certification—in this model, they generally pursue parallel paths, working on and submitting the COA application while also having their pilots study for and take the Part 107 test to obtain their Remote Pilot Certificate.
Although speed is one reason to have your pilots get their Part 107 while waiting on your COA application to be processed and approved, another reason is that having both a COA and a Part 107 certification signals to the public and other local entities that all steps are being taken by your public agency to create a thorough, well-organized drone operation.
As Tom Agos, Crime Prevention Specialist for the Gurnee Police Department in Gurnee, Illinois told us:We feel like it’s smart to do both because it adds a certain air of professionalism to the program. The [Part 107] licensing of the pilots is for the benefit and protection of our officers, to reassure the public that we are taking all responsible steps to do things safely and by the book, and it’s also for our insurance carrier.
Given how closely scrutinized a new drone program at a police or fire department might be, having both in place could be a good way to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered, and that you’re putting the right foot forward when it comes to public perception.
On the other hand, a COA can provide a great deal of flexibility for your drone operations, but it’s also a longer and more difficult process to obtain one than it is to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate through the Part 107 rules.
To be more specific, when it comes to the flexibility a COA can provide, the Part 107 rules prohibit:
- Flying at night
- Flying beyond visual line of sight
- Flying over people
- Flying above 400 feet
- And flying in controlled airspace
You can apply for a waiver or special authorization for each of these types of activities, but these applications can be slow to process, and in some cases may not be issued.
But if you have a COA, you’ll have permission to routinely fly within certain regions of controlled airspace, permission to fly over people in the event of a life safety incident, and you can request other special provisions to be named in your COA, depending on the specific needs of your operations.
The Drone Professor offers specif online training courses in Applying for a COA/Waiver, passing the 107 certification exam, night operations, mission planning and Law Enforcement Response to Drone Complaints on this web site.