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No pilot’s license required, but flying drones at IU is still monitored closely

Jan. 18, 2017

When IU adopted an unmanned aircraft policy to comply with Federal Aviation Administration requirements in 2015, IU employees who wanted to fly a drone for commercial purposes couldn’t do so unless they had an airplane pilot’s license.

Eric Rudd

Eric Rudd, art director and producer for IU Communications, prepares to fly a drone. | PHOTO BY MARY KECK, IU COMMUNICATIONS

Although that regulation was adapted by the FAA in 2016, there are still only a handful of people approved to fly drones commercially, and only one hobbyist who can fly on the Bloomington campus.

IU is a leading university in developing policies and procedures to keep people safe as well as protect the university from liability when IU departments and hobbyists pilot unmanned aircraft.

“Some universities have come to IU for help with their own policies and procedures,” said Larry Stephens, director of IU's Office of Insurance, Loss Control and Claims.

Stephens is one of seven members of a committee that approves the use of drones and who can operate them on university property. 

Departments and individuals must get approval and comply with FAA requirements when operating unmanned aircraft for university purposes. 

“The intent is not to make it hard for faculty to do things, but just to make sure they do them safely,” Stephens said.

Each drone approval is different because the committee considers not only who is seeking to fly and whether they have met the FAA’s requirements to pilot an unmanned aircraft, but also where they plan to fly and for what purposes. 

For example, while one person may be approved to fly outside on all campuses, another might be approved to fly an IU-owned drone in another country for research purposes.

One drone pilot who is approved to fly outside on all of IU’s campuses is Eric Rudd, art director and producer for IU Communications.

IU Communications’ black-and-white drone lifts off from the brick sidewalk in front of Franklin Hall, its propellers buzzing as it rises into the air. Rudd controls it from the ground by looking at an iPad screen attached to a controller. 

The drone weighs about 10 pounds. It can hit speeds close to 60 mph, and it has a camera attached to take photos and video.

campus fall

A photo of IU Bloomington taken with a drone. | PHOTO BY ERIC RUDD, IU COMMUNICATIONS

Rudd’s process for getting FAA certification and approval from IU started about a year and a half ago. FAA regulations changed in the midst of Rudd's approval process, making it possible for him to fly without an airplane pilot’s license. As a result, he was able to obtain a Part 107 license from the FAA, allowing him to take the next step toward flying a drone at IU. 

Within the past few months, Rudd received final approval to use the IU Communications drone as a marketing tool for the university to take photos and video of IU’s campuses with a new, creative perspective.

While the changes in FAA regulations made it easier for people to fly drones or unmanned aircraft commercially, there are still several steps that must be taken before a drone can be flown over university property. 

Drone pilots must have completed the following before flying a drone for commercial purposes at IU:

  • A Part 107 license from the FAA
  • The drone must be purchased by Procurement Services (exceptions must be discussed with Stephens)
  • The drone must be registered with the FAA and its wing number must be provided to IU
  • IU must obtain insurance coverage for the drone
  • Approval from IU’s committee within the Office of Insurance, Loss Control and Claims

Whenever he’s piloting the unmanned aircraft on a university campus, Rudd carries two forms of identification, one required by the FAA and another required by IU. He also enters information about when, where and why he’s flying in IU’s flight log online. 

“They’re incredible tools,” Rudd said. “I’m excited about the perspective it gives people.”

The images he’s captured so far focus on the key or iconic elements of the Bloomington campus like the Old Crescent, the student building tower, Arboretum and Global and International Studies Building. He’s limited in what video and photo he can capture because he can’t fly the drone over exposed people.

While Rudd’s use of unmanned aircraft is for marketing purposes, Stephens can see how the drones could be beneficial for other uses. For example, flying a drone over a building can help determine roof conditions for maintenance and construction or it can help a coach get a new perspective of a team practice, he said.

No matter what the purpose is for flying a drone at IU, the use of unmanned aircraft is monitored carefully to protect individuals and the university.

“We’re alert for any problem flights, so we want to know what they’re doing and when they’re flying, all in the name of safety,” Stephens said.

Read IU’s full unmanned aircraft policy online

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