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University of Wisconsin–Madison

UW–Madison Drone Use Policy

The UW–Madison drone use policy will help researchers and instructors on campus meet the Federal Aviation Association’s rules for flying unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – better known as aerial drones – while also helping to protect privacy.

The policy, “University of Wisconsin – Madison Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Policy,” encourages safe and lawful use of drones for research and instructional use. The policy provides a drone-use approval process and replaces a previous campus policy that prohibited students, staff or outside entities to operate unmanned aircraft/drones on the UW–Madison campus, interiors or exteriors. The policy allows for some drone use for research and teaching, and is a joint effort of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration.

This policy applies to drone operations in both indoor and exterior spaces and in connection with UW–Madison activities whether occurring within the United States or internationally. The policy does not apply to drone operations by the University of Wisconsin Police Department or other first responder operations conducted in accordance with applicable law.

For safety and privacy reasons, drone operations by students, employees or visitors for recreational or hobbyist purposes are still not permitted on UW–Madison premises. Drone operations by registered student organizations and by students in connection with UW–Madison coursework, are eligible to be considered for approval under this policy as instructional uses.

UAS operations by third parties for marketing and promotional purposes also are not permitted under this policy and should be directed to Tricia Nolan at University Marketing.

Steve Ackerman, associate vice chancellor for research in the physical sciences, explains that UW–Madison is a challenging environment for drone use of any kind or for any purpose given its location in an urban environment located just miles from the Dane County Regional Airport and Middleton Municipal Airport, and in close proximity to UW Health’s Med Flight base. He adds that the policy will be revisited as drone technology changes in this dynamic regulatory environment.

Prior to August 2016, the FAA’s position was that every non-recreational use of UAVs required an application for an exemption from existing rules. This requirement posed a serious barrier to entry that has now been greatly lowered. UW–Madison’s policy reflects FAA’s new rules. The FAA also no longer requires handlers to have a pilot license to fly a drone.

The UW–Madison policy also calls for establishing an UAS Ethics and Safety Committee, with broad campus representation, to make timely reviews of drone use applications.

Under the policy, the approval process requires that UW–Madison faculty, staff, students, contractors and affiliates seeking to operate UAS for UW–Madison related education, research and non-academic (such as facilities uses) purposes to answer questions provided in the policy appendix and submit those to the UAS Ethics and Safety Committee for review no less than 30 days in advance of the first proposed flight date. Applications should be emailed to

If an applicant’s planned operation will require a waiver of FAA rules, it is recommended that the applicant apply for the waiver at least ninety 90 days in advance of the first proposed flight date.  Applications for waivers are submitted through the FAA website at

The committee will recommend the application for approval provided it adequately describes the proposed activity and reasonably assures that the proposed activity meets the requirements of the policy and related procedures, as well as the applicable laws and regulations. Applications for operations requiring an FAA waiver will be conditionally approved if the waiver is still pending, with final approval granted upon receipt of the FAA waiver.

A separate application form and approval process managed by the Division of Facilities Planning and Management applies to requests for UAS operations by facilities planning and design consultant teams, or on behalf of architects, engineers, or construction contractors engaged in facility projects on UW lands pursuant to contracts issued by the State of Wisconsin Department of Administration or by the University of Wisconsin System Administration on behalf of UW-Madison.