New for 2016 – Public COAs at Antonelli Law

Today we are introducing our second program for 2016: Helping public agencies obtain FAA COAs for UAS. We began preparing for this program last year when we kept hearing from university faculty and first responders of their needs for FAA COAs.

In conjunction with our aviation consultant Douglas Marshall we are prepared to help universities and public agencies across the country obtain FAA COAs for operation.

Some things at the FAA are in flux, such as the issue of whether a student must have a manned pilot’s license to take a UAS training course. But just as we did for commercial UAS in our Section 333 program, we promise to keep abreast of the latest FAA changes for public COAs.

For Basic Points and Instructions on Public COAs scroll down past the contact form. Our Public COA page can be found here.

If you would like to speak with Jeffrey Antonelli about pursuing a Public COA for your organization please call 312-201-8310 or use the contact form below.

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    Give yourself plenty of lead time before you operate 

    Preparing the application – and your budget request

    It is vital to give yourself enough lead time to prepare the COA before you intend to operate. If you are a university and want to operate a UAV during the fall semester, consider beginning the paperwork at the beginning of the spring semester – or sooner – in order to give yourself enough time to obtain the necessary letter from your state’s attorney general, register your UAV with the FAA, and gather and submit the other required information.

    • FAA approval can take up to 60 days, and possibly longer depending on the complexity of the operation.
    • The COA can be effective for a two year period.

    Three basic prerequisites are needed to apply for a Public COA: 

    1) Show that you are a public agency

    The FAA requires your public agency to provide a letter, preferably from your state’s attorney general, certifying that the agency is public. This is a necessary first step before being allowed to proceed through the online portal to apply for a COA.

    Examples of public agencies who can apply for and receive – or have received – public COAs include local law enforcement or emergency response; public universities and community colleges; and federal agencies like NASA and Customs and Border Protection.

    2) Have a public aircraft

    The aircraft needs to be owned or leased by a public agency, such as the federal or a state or local government, and registered with the FAA to have an N-Number. This will be required before you apply for your public COA.

    3) Serve a government function.

    Governmental functions are defined as “an activity undertaken by a government, such as national defense, intelligence missions, firefighting, search and rescue, law enforcement (including transportation of prisoners, detainees, and illegal aliens), aeronautical research, or biological or geological resource management. 49 CFR 40125 (a)(2)

    Interesting Notes for Discussion:

    The FAA has stated that “aeronautical research” for the purposes of a public COA must involve the development of an aircraft to qualify – non-aviation research that incidentally uses a UAV would not qualify in this definition. The FAA will allow universities to use UAVs for research that is non-aeronautical; however, the defined government function should be worded in the terms of aeronautical research.

    A state university with a public aircraft COA can use it for aeronautical research is the state’s intended mission, but the findings of the research would have to belong to the state regardless of the source of funding, including private research grants.[1]


    The above is of course just partial information and not legal advice. Contact the attorneys at Antonelli Law for a full discussion of your program’s needs.

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