What Is an FAA COA and Who Needs It

What Is an FAA COA and Who Needs It?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Certificate of Authorization (COA) is a crucial document for entities seeking to operate in the National Airspace System (NAS) in ways that do not conform to standard flight regulations.

This certification is particularly pertinent for public operators, such as government agencies, seeking to fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or conduct other specialized aerial activities.

Summary – What Is an FAA COA and Who Needs It?

An FAA COA, or Federal Aviation Administration Certificate of Authorization, is a key document for entities like government agencies and educational institutions that need to operate in the National Airspace System in non-standard ways, such as flying unmanned aircraft systems.┬áIt’s needed by those whose operations fall outside the scope of standard regulatory frameworks, ensuring safety and legal compliance in the airspace.

The COA stipulates specific parameters under which these operations can be safely and legally executed, including but not limited to, designated flight areas, altitudes, and times of operation.

Commercial entities, researchers, and educational institutions may also require a COA when their operations fall outside the scope of Part 107 or other standard regulatory frameworks.

Ensuring compliance with FAA regulations, a COA is a testament to an operator’s commitment to maintaining the safety and integrity of the airspace.

Federal aviation administration building

FAA COA: Meaning and Aviation Significance

Why is an FAA Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) a pivotal element for certain unmanned aircraft operations within the aviation sector?

The FAA COA provides unique operational flexibility that is essential for public entities aiming to utilize drones in scenarios that go beyond the baseline regulations.

The benefits of FAA COA include the ability to conduct flights at night, over people, and in otherwise restricted airspace.

However, these operations are bound by certain limitations to ensure safety, such as operational restrictions or the requirement of additional safety measures.

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Safety considerations for FAA COA operations are paramount, as they ensure the unmanned aircraft do not pose a threat to other airspace users or the public.

The FAA evaluates each application thoroughly to mitigate risks, applying necessary provisions to the COA.

Differences between FAA COA and Part 107 drone license are significant. While Part 107 permits commercial drone operations within certain limits, a COA provides public operators with broader authority under specific conditions.

Steps to obtain FAA COA documentation include submitting a detailed application through the COA Application Processing System (CAPS), which involves a comprehensive operational and technical review by the FAA.

The impact of FAA COA on drone industry growth cannot be overstated. It has enabled public entities to leverage drone technology in innovative ways, thereby expanding the capabilities and applications of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) within the public domain.

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Eligibility and Covered Operations by FAA COA

Eligibility for an FAA Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) is strictly limited to governmental entities, ensuring that only those representing public interests can undertake certain unmanned aircraft operations that are otherwise restricted.

Entities such as law enforcement, emergency responders, and public universities can apply, aligning with the necessity of FAA COA to facilitate critical operations without the constraints of standard regulations.

COA-covered operations extend beyond typical Part 107 rules, allowing authorized drones to operate at night, over people, and in certain restricted airspace.

This flexibility is vital for public safety missions and infrastructure inspections among other tasks. The COA documentation requirements are stringent, demanding detailed operational plans and safety protocols to ensure the preservation of national airspace integrity.

The distinction between the commercial vs. non-commercial COA process is significant; commercial entities operate under Part 107 or other FAA regulations, while public entities may receive a COA under Part 91 for public aircraft operations.

The COA thus provides a tailored approach to meet the specific needs of public entities, ensuring they can carry out essential services effectively and safely.

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Requirements for Obtaining FAA COA Documentation

Securing an FAA Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) necessitates a comprehensive submission of specific documents and adherence to detailed procedural requirements to affirm the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.

The initial step involves presenting a public declaration letter, confirming the agency’s status and intention to operate publicly-owned unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

This critical document initiates the pre-screening process, setting the foundation for further scrutiny.

Each application must include an airworthiness statement from the accountable executive, assuring the airworthiness of the UAS and the commitment to uphold maintenance protocols.

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A meticulously crafted lost link protocol is mandatory, detailing the procedures in the event of a communication breakdown between the UAS and the control station.

Moreover, applicants must outline robust emergency procedures that enumerate potential crises and corresponding responses, ensuring preparedness for unforeseen events.

The documentation submitted should also encompass risk mitigation strategies, demonstrating a proactive approach to identify and alleviate operational hazards.

These strategies are pivotal in convincing the FAA that the proposed UAS operations will not compromise the safety of the national airspace.

Only when the FAA deems the application and its attachments complete will a thorough operational and technical review commence, potentially leading to COA issuance with specific provisions or limitations.

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Examples Necessitating FAA COA in Aviation

Public agencies often require an FAA Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) in specific situations where standard flight rules are not sufficient for their critical operations.

These scenarios include disaster management and tactical law enforcement missions.

For example, during wildfire suppression efforts, agencies need rapid and flexible aerial capabilities to monitor red flag warning areas and manage firefighting strategies.

This may involve flying drones beyond visual line of sight or during night hours.

In the realm of search and rescue, time is crucial, and drones can provide immediate aerial views of hard-to-reach areas, greatly assisting in locating missing persons.

These operations may require flight over densely populated regions or beyond the operator’s direct vision, necessitating an FAA COA.

Law enforcement activities also benefit from FAA COAs, as drones offer a strategic advantage for surveillance, crowd monitoring, or crime scene analysis.

Law enforcement agencies may need to operate drones in restricted airspace or near critical infrastructure in these instances.

Additionally, following natural disasters, utility restoration efforts and damage assessments are crucial for a swift recovery.

Drones authorized under a COA can quickly survey affected infrastructure, streamlining the process of identifying repair needs and coordinating insurance claims.

This capability is vital for both assessing damage and expediting community recovery efforts.

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FAA COA Process: Commercial vs. Non-Commercial Entities

Navigating the FAA Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) process requires a clear understanding of the distinct procedures and requirements for commercial and non-commercial entities.

Non-commercial entities, particularly those representing government bodies, benefit from the advantages of operational flexibility under a COA.

They can conduct flights that are typically restricted, such as night operations or flights over people.

The application process for these entities is more complex, necessitating a Public Declaration Letter and extensive documentation through the COA Online Application System (CAPS).

Compliance requirements are stringent, but these are counterbalanced by the latitude to operate in ways that are otherwise prohibited under standard regulations.

Commercial entities, however, face limitations under Part 107, the rules that govern most commercial drone operations.

The application process for commercial operators is streamlined, involving obtaining a remote pilot certificate rather than a COA.

While commercial entities do not have the same operational flexibility as non-commercial COA holders, they benefit from a less burdensome compliance framework.

Nevertheless, they must be aware of restrictions such as no flights over people or at night without obtaining specific waivers and must adhere to airspace authorizations.

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Consequences: Operating Without FAA COA Enforcement

The consequences of operating an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) without a required FAA Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) can range from hefty fines to criminal prosecution.

Noncompliance exposes operators to various penalties, including civil fines that can escalate up to $27,500 for specific infractions, such as failing to register a UAS.

More severe or deliberate breaches can attract criminal penalties, potentially leading to fines of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to three years.

The FAA employs several enforcement mechanisms to ensure adherence to regulations. These include certificate actions, civil penalty actions, and informal procedures and settlements.

Enforcement actions are initiated by the FAA’s Enforcement Division, which is tasked with addressing violations, whether through administrative or criminal legal actions.

Unsafe operations, which endanger persons or property, may provoke substantial civil penalties and can jeopardize an operator’s FAA-issued certificates.

These consequences underscore the importance of compliance with FAA regulations.

The FAA’s Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) further supports this compliance framework by collaborating with various law enforcement agencies to address threats to the national security involving U.S. registered aircraft and FAA certificate holders.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, the FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) serves as a pivotal regulatory framework in aviation, delineating the permissible operations for specific entities.

Compliance with the COA requirements ensures the safety and integrity of national airspace.

Entities operating without a COA face significant enforcement actions, underlining the FAA’s commitment to maintaining stringent oversight.

This regulatory instrument is essential for maintaining the delicate balance between aviation innovation and the preservation of public safety.

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