Unmanned Aircraft Systems / Drones

A unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is defined as a "powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload".(1)   A UAV, commonly known as a drone, unpiloted aerial vehicle, or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), has its flight controlled either autonomously by on-board computers or by the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle. 

The term unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) emphasizes the importance of other elements beyond the aircraft itself. The term UAS has been adopted by the United States Department of Defense (DOD) and the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to describe a broad range of aircraft. Systems range in cost from a few thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars and range in capability from Micro Air Vehicles (MAV) weighing less than one pound to aircraft weighing over 40,000 pounds. The complete system includes ground stations and other elements besides the actual aircraft.  A typical UAS consists of:

  • unmanned aircraft (UA);
  • control system, such as ground control station (GCS);
  • control link, a specialized datalink; and
  • other related support equipment.

Beyond the military applications of UAVs, with which the term "drones" first became most associated, numerous civil aviation uses have been developed, including aerial surveying of crops, acrobatic aerial footage in film making, search and rescue operations, inspecting power lines and pipelines, counting wildlife, and delivering medical supplies to remote or otherwise inaccessible regions.  While autonomous aircraft are considered unsuitable for commercial use due to legal liability issues, remotely piloted aircraft are being seen increasingly outside of military and government research uses and are, therefore, becoming the subject of civil regulation by the relevant aviation authorities (i.e. Federal Aviation Administration in the United States).

As of March 01, 2017, Harvard's policy for the use of UAS/Drones is being revised with rules being developed to govern their use above or around any of the University's Massachusetts campuses. Additional information is forthcoming over the next few months.

In the meantime, students, faculty and administrators wishing to use a drone (outdoors) above or around University property must contact Matthew Fox, Senior Research Compliance Officer in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, IN ADVANCE OF CONDUCTING ANY OUTDOOR FLIGHT OPERATIONS for guidance on allowable usage. Be aware, any operator not otherwise falling within the FAA's recreational/hobby use category must comply with Part 107 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulation (14 CFR) regardless of any additional limitations imposed by Harvard. It is the operator's responsibility to know and comply with all pertinent FAA rules. Harvard University groups considering the development of in-house UAVs/drone capabilities are strongly advised to first determine the feasibility of retaining an external vendor or independent operator, possessing the requisite FAA authorizations, to perform the desired activities on their behalf.

UAS/DRONE Insurance. The University carries no insurance applicable to the risks associated with the ownership or operation of UAVs. Consequently, each school or department granting the use of an UAV as part of an academic, research, community service, or administrative activity are individually responsible for damage or loss caused by and to the aircraft, including fines or penalties imposed due to unauthorized usage. Proper insurance is available for any Harvard school or department wishing to fund for their UAS risks. Please email risk-services@harvard.edu for more information.

Minimum Recommended Risk Management and Insurance Terms. Departments investigating deployment of their own aircraft or retaining a third party vendor to perform drone operations should see that the following types and amounts of commercial insurance are in effect prior to commencing flight operations:

  • $2 million of aviation commercial general liability coverage for bodily injury to or property damage of a third party;
  • $2 million of personal injury liability coverage arising out of UAS/Drone operations;
  • $1 million of aviation products liability coverage;
  • Hull (physical damage) coverage for the aircraft, including attached equipment, for the full replacement cost;
  • Coverage should extend to perils such as 1) unlawful use (such as when a COA was required, but not obtained), 2) privacy violations resulting from such things as unauthorized photography or data collection, and 3) liability for trespassing, harassment, and other privacy torts;
  • For third party owner/operators, a written agreement to defend and indemnify President and Fellows of Harvard College in the event of an accident resulting from the commercial user’s (vendor) negligence;
  • For third party owner/operators, a written agreement that any available insurance President and Fellows of Harvard College may carry will be excess and non-contributory to the vendor’s policy;
  • For third party owner/operators, provide proof of above coverages naming President and Fellows of Harvard College as an additional insured on all liability coverages

(1) TheFreeDictionary.com 01-June-2015.