Drone pilots reminded to follow Penn State, FAA regulations

Only unmanned aerial vehicle flights for official University purposes are currently allowed on Penn State property. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERISTY PARK, Pa. — As unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, become increasingly popular for both professional and recreational purposes, Penn State is reminding all drone operators of the federal regulations and University policies that regulate how, when and where these vehicles can be flown.

University purposes only

The first major thing all potential drone operators should be aware of is that, for the time being, only flights for official University purposes are allowed on Penn State property.

This includes the use of drones related to research and work undertaken by faculty and staff, as well as third parties contracted by the University, such as a photographer hired to collect aerial footage using a drone. All pilots seeking to use a drone for University purposes must submit a request to fly and go through a registration and training process as detailed below.

Drones flown on campus must either be owned and insured by the University, or owned, operated, and insured by a third party approved to fly for official University purposes. If a Penn State employee purchases a drone with University funds or with the intent to pilot it for University-affiliated activities, the purchase must be reported to the Unmanned Aircraft Operations team in the Office for Research Protections, which can be reached at or at 814-865-1775.

Drone Registration

Any drone being flown outdoors on University property or for a University-affiliated activity must be registered with the FAA. All University-owned drones, regardless of whether they are being flown indoors or outdoors, must be on the University’s insurance schedule and drones operated by third parties must meet Penn State’s insurance requirements.

Training and Standardization Flight Checks

All pilots are required to complete four online training modules through Canvas, before going through a qualification flight check in the field with one of the program’s standardization pilots. The purpose of Standardization Flight checks are to ensure all pilots can demonstrate hands-on safety techniques while operating their vehicle. Pilots may also be required to hold a Small Unmanned Aircraft System Part 107 Certification.

Request to Fly

The University uses an electronic management system to process flight requests, which also serves as a repository for pilot credentials, vehicle registrations, and the overall details of a flight request. Jenn Stewart, Unmanned Aircraft Operations Manager, noted that some areas of Penn State property fall within controlled airspace, such as near the University Park Airport. For flights that are proposed within controlled airspace, Stewart said extra steps are required to obtain airspace authorization.

Penn State also enforces additional restrictions on flights in crowded areas, during athletic events and other scenarios with additional safety risks. Pilots must follow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules, as well as University Policy SY45 Use of Unmanned Aircraft. Stewart notes that “In addition to University policy, we have a number of standard-operating procedures, all of which exist because safety is always our number one goal.”

For any additional questions, members of the Penn State community should contact the Unmanned Aircraft Operations team at or at 814-865-1775.

Last Updated August 18, 2021