Contact Us

By the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)


Drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), save time, money and even lives for public works agencies across the country. Drones can capture images and data in difficult-to-reach or dangerous places to make tasks such as inspections and mapping safer and more efficient.  

If you are thinking about incorporating a drone into your operations, here are the top 10 things you need to know before you fly.

1.You Must Follow the FAA’s “Part 107” Regulation

If you want to fly your drone for commercial or civil government purposes, you must follow Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, also known as the Small UAS Rule. This rule went into effect on August 29, 2016. Under Part 107, to fly a drone you must be at least 16 years old, you must hold a remote pilot certificate or be under the direct supervision of someone with a remote pilot certificate, and you must complete a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) background check.

2.You Have to Pass a Knowledge Test

To receive a remote pilot certificate, you must pass a Knowledge Test. They are administered at FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Centers. More information about the Knowledge Test and the nearest testing location to you can be found on the FAA website.

3.Your Drone Must Weigh Less Than 55 Pounds

According to current FAA regulations, your drone must weigh less than 55 pounds to fly under Part 107. Heavier aircraft require specific permission from the FAA.

4.You Can Only Fly During Daylight Hours

As it stands, operations are only permitted during daylight hours. That means if it is after dark, you cannot fly.

5.You Can Only Fly Up to 400 Feet

The maximum flight altitude permitted by the FAA under Part 107 is 400 feet above ground level.

6.You Can Only Fly in Authorized Airspace

Drone pilots planning to fly under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports must receive an airspace authorization from the FAA before they fly. The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) is a collaboration between the FAA and the drone industry that provides near real-time authorization for Part 107 pilots and recreational flyers. LAANC is available at approximately 400 air traffic facilities covering about 600 airports.

7.You Must Always Operate a Drone Within Visual Line of Sight

When you are operating your drone, make sure it is always within your visual line of sight and, of course, below 400 feet.

8.You Must Register Your Drone with the FAA

Commercial and civil operators are required to register each of their drones with the FAA. The registration costs five dollars per aircraft and is valid for three years. Once you register your drone, you must label it with your registration number. More information on how to register your drone can be found on the FAA website.

9.You Can Fly Beyond the Rule with a Waiver

If you want to fly beyond what is allowed under Part 107, you must receive a waiver. A Part 107 waiver is an official document issued by the FAA which allows drone pilots to deviate from certain rules under Part 107 by demonstrating they can still fly safely using alternative methods. Some examples of operations that are subject to a waiver are flying from a moving vehicle, flying at night, flying beyond your ability to clearly determine your drone’s orientation with unaided vision, flying multiple drones and flying over people.

10.Certification Sets You Apart from Other Drone Operators

Once you have your remote pilot certificate, you can set your career apart from others operating drones for public works by earning a Trusted Operator professional certification from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). The AUVSI Trusted Operator Program (TOP) provides you with a higher level of demonstrated knowledge, flight proficiency, safety and risk management practices that will be valued by employers and customers, a competitive advantage when it comes to negotiating salaries/rates. To learn more about how to become an AUVSI TOP Operator, visit

Incorporating a drone into your operations can provide improved efficiency and safety and help your public works agency stand out from others. Know Before You Fly is an education campaign founded by AUVSI and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) in partnership with the FAA to educate prospective users about the safe and responsible drone operations. For more information on what you need to know before you fly, or for your agency to become an official supporter of the Know Before You Fly education campaign, visit


Tom McMahon | Senior VP of Advocacy and Government Relations 
Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International



It is hard to effectively prepare for new technology.  What do you need to know?  How will you use the technology?  How will you know if you are actually prepared for the technology?  Even using the correct term for a piece of technology can be challenging.  What one person may call a drone another person may call a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and another an RPA (remotely piloted aircraft).

Public works seems to be settled on using UAV, but there is much more to learn about this newly adopted piece of flying technology.  UAVs will become a piece of public works equipment sooner than later; thank goodness training courses are becoming available across North America.

Beginner courses often include:

  • Explaining different models of UAV
  • Purchasing your new system
  • Safety guidelines
  • Pre-flight checklists

Online courses are available as well.  However, becoming an effective and responsible UAV pilot is more than watching an online tutorial and teaching yourself how to fly.  You wouldn’t attempt to operate a tub grinder, an asphalt recycler, or a water jetter without proper hands-on training-UAV training should be no different. 

In-depth UAV courses embrace concepts and experiences:

  • Responsibilities of the pilot
  • Air space
  • Aviation weather
  • Pre-flight inspections
  • Flying without GPS
  • Flying to simulate a bridge inspection

Photo courtesy of Brandon Parigo, UMKC Strategic Communications

APWA looked at the Unmanned Aircraft Training for Industrial Applications offered at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) to get an idea of what public works employees can look for and benefit from.  The course is designed to teach discretion and accountability by placing the students in uncomfortable real-life scenarios.

All public works employees will agree that operating expensive equipment comes with elevated responsibility.  Operating UAVs will surely follow that rule. 

What a public works employee should look for in a UAV course.

  • Who is teaching the course?
  • Is the course at the appropriate skill level?
  • Does the course provide experience that will translate to my line of work?
  • Will I have opportunities to get flying time?

Like all public works operators, UAV operators will be expected to know the equipment inside and out; know when the equipment is not operating correctly; and most importantly, know its limitations.    UAV courses can provide the foundation required to be a smart, responsible pilot.

Education and experience are the backbone to an effective equipment operator, and courses are now being offered to provide UAV pilots with the knowledge and experience to put UAVs on the front line of public works equipment. 


The 2018 IEEE International Smart Cities Conference in Kansas City, MO brought together experts, project managers, policy makers and academics to discuss smart city technology, and smart city initiatives such as smart infrastructure, asset upgrading and replacement, and connected devices.  Key topics for public works professionals included spatial computing, a future with autonomous vehicles, and the Internet of Things. 

Spatial computing can create virtual maps for consumer GPS devices, assist with asset tracking, facility management, and even smart routing.  Smart routing can be used by the fleet industry to find more efficient routes, saving time as well as money.  By the year 2020 smart routing could save up to $500 billion in fuel and time.

A future that brings autonomous vehicles will bring questions like the value of curb space, concerns like the funding of transportation infrastructure, and quick adoption of AV.  The adoption of AV will absolutely affect big highway projects and force administrators and public works leaders to reassess the value of parking.  Keynote speaker Julie Lorenz discussed the disruptive changes that autonomous and connected vehicles will bring.  She believes these changes will require cities to adapt and innovate to provide services.
Julie Lorenz:  The Promise and Paradox of Emerging Vehicles

The Internet of Things is a concept that will affect the public works industry across the board.  The IoT is an idea where things are connected like people; vehicles, machines, people, and infrastructure will all be connected and exchanging data.  Public works impacts will include real-time analytics for infrastructure management, environmental monitoring, energy management, and what is sure to be the next “utility”; transportation.

Key Takeaways:

  • Smart cities implementation and support is greatly dependent on public works departments as they are responsible for the city infrastructure and technology maintenance.
  • Many advances within smart city infrastructure will be the result of life cycle upgrades or replacement of infrastructure or city assets. (Street light replacement / repair)
  • Transportation will become a “utility” for citizens, and curb space will be more valued in the city space.



In July, I headed west to San Francisco to attend the Automated Vehicles Symposium Driven by AUVSI and TRB.  The most engaged researchers, the most innovative industry representatives, and experienced professionals from transportation agencies and other invested organizations in the realm of Automated Vehicles attended and presented at this event.

In a session by Dr. Ensar Becic with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) it was mentioned that crashes will happen and that 94% of crashes are due to human choice or error. That’s an amazing statistic.

This is an interesting graphic that was included in the presentation titled Bridging the Automated Vehicle Gap:  Consumer Trust, Technology and Liability about the Willingness to Ride in Fully Autonomous Self-Driving Vehicle.  Looking at the “woulds” vs. “would nots,” it is interesting to note that it’s pretty evenly matched between those that would and those that would not be likely to ride in a fully autonomous self-driving vehicle.  I ride the bus to work downtown in Kansas City.  One day, I was talking to a fellow bus rider that said she likes taking the bus because she doesn’t have to drive.  I asked her if she would like to ride in an autonomous vehicle.  She said, “Oh no, I want a driver in the vehicle.”  Until we are able to change that mindset, I don’t believe there will be full adoption of autonomous vehicles.

In the future, when SAE Level 5 automated vehicles are an everyday occurrence, transportation will be considered a service. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) was a term used by Professor Paul Newman from Oxford.  It may not take as long as we think for full adoption of autonomous vehicles.  For example, in 1909 Henry Ford began production on the Model T.  In 1927 there were 15 million Model T’s on the road.

Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, spoke on Tuesday. She said, “Without public acceptance, automated technology will never reach its full potential.”

Secretary Chao shared the six principles that govern the United States Department of Transportation’s approach to AV technology:

(1) The #1 Priority is Safety

(2) Tech-neutral, not top-down command and control.  We will not pick winners and losers among the developers of these technologies.

 (3) Preference for regulations that are non-prescriptive, performance-based, and seek to enhance safety whenever possible

(4) The Department will work with states and localities to avoid a patchwork of rules that could inhibit innovation and make it difficult for AVs to cross state lines.

(5) The Department will provide stakeholders with guidance, best practices, pilot programs and other assistance to facilitate the safe integration of AV systems into the transportation system.

(6) The Department recognizes that autonomous vehicles will have to operate side-by-side with traditional vehicles, in both urban and rural areas.

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery By U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao Autonomous Vehicle Symposium San Francisco, CA Tuesday, July 10, 2018

I attended two breakout sessions while at the Symposium:

  • Cybersecurity of Automated Vehicles Ecosystem was very interesting.  I found there were more ways to attack automated vehicles and infrastructure than I had thought of. 
  • Speed Dating in the Legal Coliseum was a unique session where 12 panelists presented a single slide and in four minutes described what their organization is doing, what feedback they want from the audience, and what one policy wish they have for government or industry.

At the plenary session on Wednesday, it was brought up about ethics and autonomous vehicles.  If a situation presented itself should the car kill the passenger or ten people on the road.  My thought was, "let’s not kill anyone."

There was a reception with exhibitors and poster presentations each evening.  Lidar was a hot topic with the exhibitors and Truck Platooning seemed to be a very popular research topic.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in San Francisco.  I came away from the symposium with a few answers and lots of questions that people don’t know the answers to yet.

Automated Vehicles Symposium 2018 Proceedings

Of course, while in San Francisco, I had to ride the Cable Car to Fisherman’s Wharf to get clam chowder in a bread bowl.   

APWA Roving Reporter - Automated Vehicles Symposium Facebook Album


Rita J. Cassida, PE

Education Manager

< Previous Page Next Page >