Unoccupied Aircraft System (Drone) Policy

Responsible officeUnoccupied Aircraft System Board (UASB)
Enforcement officialDepartment of Public Safety
ClassificationBoard of Trustees-delegated Policy
Category16. Public Safety and Parking

Statement of policy

The operation of Unoccupied Aircraft Systems (UAS) (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or drones) and Small Unoccupied Aircraft is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and relevant state laws. This policy explains the actions WMU will take to review University-sponsored UAS use; reduce risks to safety, security and privacy; and ensure that the best interests and obligations of the University with regard to UAS are being met. 

Summary of contents/major changes

Moved to policy template; updated based on federal regulations and state law.

  1. Purpose of Policy

    The purpose of this Policy is to provide guidance to the WMU community and the WMU administration on acceptable drone flight on campus or WMU students and personnel acting in their official capacities while off campus. The Policy primarily addresses issues of safety, security, privacy, and acceptable use. The legality of drone flight operations is governed by the FAA, and this Policy assumes that the drone operator is duly qualified for the operation and follows the law. 

  2. Stakeholders Most Impacted by the Policy

    This policy applies to both the outdoor and indoor use of UAS, including drones and Small Unoccupied Aircraft, operated by anyone for any purpose, from, on, or land governed by WMU.  This Policy applies to all Western Michigan University employees and students operating UAS in any location as part of their University employment or as part of University activities and applies to the purchase of UAS with funding through Western Michigan University, including university accounts, and grants.

  3. Key Definitions

    1. Unoccupied Aircraft or Drone: an aircraft flown by a remote pilot via a ground control system, or autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links, and any additional equipment that is necessary for the unoccupied aircraft to operate safely.  

    2. Unoccupied Aircraft System (UAS):  an unoccupied aircraft and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications, navigation equipment, and other equipment necessary to operate the unoccupied aircraft.  

    3. Remote Pilot in Command: an individual who has received a Remote Pilot Certification from the FAA and is directly responsible for and is the final authority as to the operation of the small unoccupied aircraft system. 

    4. Visual Line of Sight (VLOS):  continuous, unaided visual contact with the UAS

    5. Small Unoccupied Aircraft: a recreational unoccupied aircraft or a civil unoccupied aircraft that weighs less than fifty-five pounds, including everything that is onboard or otherwise attached to the aircraft.  49 USC §44809; 14 C.F.R. § 107.3.  

    6. WMU Property:  Any building or property owned or controlled by an institution that is used in direct support of, or in relation to, the institution’s educational purposes.

    7. UAS Board (UASB): group of individuals designated the authority to review and decide whether to grant requests to fly UAS on WMU Property as specified below.

  4. Full Policy Details

    1. Use of Unoccupied Aircraft Systems, Including Drones and Small Unoccupied Aircraft on WMU Campus Property (As used in this Policy, unless otherwise stated, the acronym UAS includes Drones and Small Unoccupied Aircraft).

      1. Any individual operating a UAS on or above WMU property is responsible for fully complying with all applicable FAA regulations, state and federal laws, and university policies.

      2. Any individual operating a UAS above lands governed by WMU; any WMU-sponsored or controlled UAS over lands not governed by WMU; or any UAS purchased with WMU funds must submit an operating plan to the UASB and have that plan approved prior to operating such aircraft.   

      3. Prior to flight, the Remote Pilot in Command must submit an operating plan to the UASB.  Operating plans must include:  

        1. Equipment to be used;

        2. Dates, and times

        3. Locale(s), including the resident or temporary populations therein

        4. Purpose(s) of the operation

        5. The identity of pilot(s) or other remote operator(s)

        6. All forms of data (including imagery) to be collected

        7. Current status of any required licenses or permissions

        8. Provisions for security of the equipment, both during and outside of operation, and of any sensitive data collected.

    2. In-flight Requirements

      1. Through the entire flight, the Remote Pilot in Command, the visual observer (if one is used), and the person manipulating the flight control of the small unoccupied aircraft system must maintain a VLOS throughout the entire flight unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.

      2. The Remote Pilot in Command must:

        1. Know the unoccupied aircraft’s location;

        2. Determine the unoccupied aircraft’s attitude, altitude, and direction of flight;

        3. Observe the airspace for other air traffic or hazards; and 

        4. Ensure that the unoccupied aircraft does not endanger the life or property of another.  14 CFR §107.31

        5. Know and comply with any and all FAA or state regulations relating to flying UAS.

      3. Night Operations

        Except as set forth in Federal Regulation (14 C.F.R. § 107.29), UAS covered by this policy may not be flown at night.  Pilots must know and comply with any and all FAA or state regulations relating to flying UAS at night.

      4. Flight over people

        Except as set forth in Federal Regulation (14 C.F.R. § 107.39), UAS covered by this policy may not be flown over people.  Pilots must know and comply with any and all FAA or state regulations relating to flying UAS over people. 

    3. Any third party seeking to operate a UAS or Small Unoccupied Aircraft on or over University property as a contractor for the University or University-sponsored activity must enter into a written agreement with WMU, whereby the UAS owner or operator holds the University harmless from any resulting claims or harm to individuals or damage to University property and whereby the third party agrees to obtain insurance in the amount specified by the Senior Director of Risk Management & Business Services.   

    4. If operating a UAS to record or transmit visual images, operators must take all reasonable measures to avoid areas normally considered private, such as residence halls and other living quarters.  MCL 259.322

    5. Most of WMU’s campuses are within the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport (AZO) Class D controlled airspace and underneath the AZO Terminal Radar Service Area. Airspace authorization via LAANC or the FAA DroneZone is required to operate an UAS within all controlled airspace.  14 CFR §107.41

    6. Use of UAS by WMU Personnel or Students Off WMU Property for WMU-Sanctioned Use

      1. If the UAS is to be operated by WMU faculty, staff, or students in connection with a WMU-sanctioned activity off WMU property, the use must be approved by the UASB.  MCL 259.305(3)

      2. The UASB will not consider an application until written permission from the Operating Site Property Owner and/or manager is obtained and submitted to the UASB. If the UASB grants permission, it will be valid for a specific use and time period. If the UASB denies the request, the use is prohibited.  

      3. All UAS users are responsible for ensuring compliance with FAA and State of Michigan rules for UAS found at:

        1. 49 U.S.C. VII.A.iii Chapter 48

        2. 14 C.F.R. Parts 1, 11, 14, 47, 48, 49, 89, 91, 107

        3. Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act, Act 436 of 2016, MCL 259.301 et seq.


      4. If UAS use intends to deviate from any of the above limitations, the Remote Pilot in Charge must provide the UASB a copy of a non-expired Certificate of Waiver or valid and current Certificate of Authorization from the FAA for the deviation.  

    7. Prohibited Uses

      1. No person shall knowingly and intentionally operate a UAS in a manner that interferes with the official duties of any law enforcement official, firefighter, emergency medical services personnel, search and rescue personnel, state correctional officer, any other individual employed by the department of corrections, or a local corrections officer. See MCL 259.321 for definitions.

      2. No person shall knowingly and intentionally operate a UAS  in a manner that subjects an individual to harassment (as defined in MCL 750.411h and 750.411i), within a distance that, if the person were to do so personally rather than through remote operation of an unoccupied aircraft, would be a violation of a restraining order, judicial order, Section 539j of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.539j, or to otherwise capture photographs, video, or audio recordings of an individual in a manner that would invade the individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

      3. No person who is required to register as a sex offender under the Michigan Sex Offenders Registration act shall operate a UAS to knowingly and intentionally follow, contact, or capture images of another individual, if the individual’s sentence in a criminal case would prohibit the individual from following, contacting, or capturing the image of the other individual.

      4. No person shall operate a UAS within a three nautical mile radius of Waldo Stadium from one hour prior to a regular or post season NCAA Division 1 football game until one hour following the game without express written FAA Airspace Security Waiver and Air Traffic Control authorization.  Any individual failing to comply with this Stadium Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) will be stopped; may have their UAS seized, damaged or destroyed; maybe subject to significant FAA Administrative Action; civil penalty; suspension or revocation of their air certificate; and may additionally face Federal criminal charges.

    8. UAS Board (UASB)

      1. The UASB shall confer as necessary to consider UAS requests.

      2. The UASB shall consist of:

        1. Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences or designee (chair, ex officio);

        2. The Vice President of the Office of Research and Innovation or designee;

        3. Dean of the College of Aviation or designee;

        4. A representative of the Office of the General Counsel;

        5. The WMU Chief of Public Safety or designee;

        6. A college dean appointed by the Provost or designee;

        7. The faculty advisor to the WMU chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). In the absence of a WMU AIAA student chapter, a faculty representative shall be designated from within the Aerospace Engineering faculty by the Dean of College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

        8. One additional faculty representative designated by the University; 

        9. Current student president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics club on campus.

      3. Appointments to the UAS Review Board shall be for one-year terms, and may be renewed. There is no limit on the number of terms that an individual may serve.

      4. Authority of the UASB

        1. The UASB will determine whether the requesting individual is permitted to use the UAS for the requested purpose.

        2. The UASB may request that a Remote Flight Operator modify a flight plan to meet the criteria identified in this Policy.

        3. The UASB may request an opinion or assistance from outside UAS experts in evaluating whether a proposed use meets legal or regulatory requirements.

        4. In the interest of minimizing delays in the review of proposals, acquisitions, or operating plans, the UASB chair may invite a representative from another regulatory unit within the university (such as the university Human Subjects in Research Board) if the agenda items implicate issues falling under that unit’s purview.  That individual will serve in an ex officio capacity. 

      5. When evaluating operating plans, the UASB shall consider the following:

        1. Whether the submitted plan is forthcoming and complete;

        2. Whether the envisioned operation complies with applicable laws, government regulations, and University policies;

        3. Whether the envisioned operation poses an unacceptable threat to the health or safety of the university community or the community where the UAS will be flown;

        4. Whether the proposed use violates privacy or the environment, either in an absolute sense or when compared to other methods of obtaining the desired information, and;

        5. Whether the envisioned operation is in the best interests of the public and the University.

    9. The UASB shall develop internal procedures for reviewing operating plans, including expedited review for Plans intended to address short-lived phenomena (e.g., flooding).

    10. Communication

      This Policy will be posted on the University’s Policies website. Members of the UASB will communicate it to their constituencies.

    11. Exceptions

      To the extent that any provision of this policy conflicts with federal law, the law will prevail.

  5. Accountability

    Failure to follow this Policy and any associated procedures may subject WMU employees to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from employment by the University, consistent with applicable procedures and Collective Bargaining Agreements. It may subject students to conduct actions taken pursuant to the Student Code, up to and including dismissal from WMU.

    Additional consequences for non-compliance include legal action against third parties contracted by the University that operate UAS in violation of this policy and other legal penalties imposed by the FAA as set out in federal or state statutes or regulations, or both.

  6. Related Procedures and Guidelines

    UASB Procedures and forms [TBD]
    LAANC Approval Procedures
    FAA Rules for Institutions of Higher Learning Educational Users
    WMU Gameday Parking

  7. Additional Information

    Users must submit UASB requests to the Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences

    Upon request, users must submit UASB approval to Department of Public Safety.

  8. FAQs

    1. When is a WMU employee considered to be on campus/operating a UAS as private individual?

      A WMU employee is on campus/operating a UAS as a private individual if they are there wholly independently of their WMU position.  For example, if a faculty member is on campus to oversee student research, they are on campus within their professional capacity.  If they are on campus taking their dog for a walk, they are there in their personal capacity.

    2. When is a WMU student considered to be on campus/operating a UAS as a private individual?

      A WMU student is on campus as a private individual if they are there wholly independently from their status as a WMU student.  For example, if the student is on campus to attend a study group meeting, they are acting as a student and this Policy applies to their activities.  If a WMU student is having a picnic on campus because it is a nice day, they are acting as a private individual.

    3. When is a UAS “Purchased with WMU funds”?

      If any funds are obtained or related to being a WMU employee, faculty member, or student, including through a grant or scholarship, it has been purchased with WMU funds.  

    4. Do I have to have a license or certificate to operate a drone as part of a class?

      No. When an UAS is operated by an institution of higher education for educational research purposes, the operator may follow the laws and regulations applicable to recreational operators.

    5. Does this Policy apply to Registered Student Organizations (RSOs)?

      Yes, to the extent that they are flying over WMU’s campus or using any WMU resources. If they are flying personally owned drones for purely recreational purposes over non-WMU property, they are not covered by this Policy.

    6. Whom do I call if I think someone is illegally flying a drone over WMU-governed property?

      If it is an emergency situation, call 911.  If it is not an emergency situation, call WMU’s Department of Public Safety at (269) 387-5555.

    7. Whom do I contact if I think someone flying a drone has not complied with this Policy/has not gotten approval of the UAS?

      Contact the Dean of the College of Engineering or the Office of the General Counsel.


Effective date of current versionAugust 1, 2022
Date first adoptedNovember 1, 2016
Proposed date of next reviewAugust 1, 2025


Certified by

Chief of the Department of Public Safety
Chair, Unoccupied Aircraft Review Board Department of Engineering and Applied Sciences

At the direction of

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs
Vice President of Business and Finance