Drone Operations at UCSF

Requirement for the use of drones (unmanned aircraft systems) for research, teaching, facility operations and all other purposes at UC San Francisco (UCSF).


Drone operations at any UCSF property require a permit and written approval from UCSF. Recreational use is not allowed.


Drones are unmanned aircraft used below the federal navigable airspace. They include associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc. Drones may have a variety of names including quadcopter, quadrotor, etc.

Required Steps – Operations on UCSF Owned Properties

By emailing your flight reqeust form to drones@ucsf.edu, your application will be reviewed by the following listed below: (UCSF internal review process can be found here).

  • UCSF Risk Management
  • UC Director of UAS Operations (located at UC Merced)
  • UCSF Police Department
  • Medical Center Helideck Manager

This policy applies to all faculty, staff, students, university contractors and visitors, and governs both indoor and outdoor use. The UCSF use authorization requirement also applies to all unmanned aircraft that do not meet the common definition of a drone (e.g., remote controlled blimps, model rockets, etc.).

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and UCSF require that all operators follow these steps prior to flight:

  1. Register your Drone (UAS) online with the FAA.
  2. Submit a UCSF online Flight Request Form (no less than 5 working days prior to proposed flight).
  3. During the Flight Request review, provide any additional information upon request.
  4. Drone operations are allowed only upon written approval issued by drones@ucsf.edu.
  5. Upon approval, comply with all FAA regulations and any additional UCSF flight precautions and restrictions.
  6. Any accidents or damage to people or UC property must be immediately reported to UCSF Police Department.
  7. Post-Flight Report must be submitted to drones@ucsf.edu within 1 week after any flight(s) experiencing abnormal opertaions.
    (Abnormal operations may include: bird interference, flight control or navigation system problems, powerplant failures, electrical or fuel system failures, collision, fires, deviations from provisions in COA or ATC clearance and/or Letter(s) of Agreement/Procedures).

Operational Restrictions

Due to the nature of UCSF properties, NO RECREATIONAL DRONE OPERATIONS ARE PERMITTED on any UCSF owned or leased property.

Drone operations on properties adjacent to UCSF must obtain applicable permits through the City and County of San Francisco, or the appropriate municipal jurisdiction.

Mission Bay - UCSF Helideck 18CN - Medical Helideck – because helicopter operations may be underway, all drone operations adjacent to Mission Bay Hospital must adhere to the following. Within 1 mile (5,280 feet) radius of helideck UCSF operates a life-support helicopter on three (3) 4,000 foot horizontal permitted visual approaches, roughly aligned in east, north and west directions. Within this radius is substantial construction activity which includes many large construction cranes, complicating the visual flight approach environment. Beyond the 1-mile general visual approach is an instrument approach which can be altered vertically to some extent through NOTAM instructions to pilots. Drone operators must understand and adhere to the following operational guidelines:

  • Proposed UAS/drone operations outside of the 1-mile radius are allowed – as directed by FAA governance -as long as the drone operator is cognizant and avoids helicopter flight.
  • Within the 1-mile radius UAS/drone operations must be under 156 feet mean sea level (MSL) in relation to topography (140 feet AGL at actual helideck height).
  • Operations/flights above 140 AGL at Helideck/156 MSL within the 1-mile radius is unacceptable due to the safety risks placed on helicopter flight.


AT&T Ballpark

  • Under FAA rules, drones cannot be flown within 3 nautical miles of AT&T Park before, during, or after Giants games, performances, concerts or other events without FAA authorization. This restriction takes effect starting one-hour before scheduled events, one hour after event concludes. 


General Guidelines

  • Do not fly over any non-UAS crewmember. This includes crew or workers within the same company, but not part of the UAS operation.
  • Maintain a safety buffer of ¼ of the proposed flight altitude. For example, if the operator wants to fly at 100 ft. above the ground, an appropriate safety buffer would be 75 ft. This may be adjusted with different sized aircraft and different proposed flight operations.
  • Either the pilot or additional crew members must have visual of the area below the drone at all times.
  • For recurrent pre-approved operations, provide notice at least one business day in advance to drones@ucsf.edu. Operators may also choose to propose a weekly schedule (such as every Wednesday, Friday at 7am). This should be coordinated with the needs of all stakeholders, and balanced with the operational needs of the operators. Since drones are heavily affected by weather, it is difficult to assess usage more than a day or two in advance.
  • Point of contact communication should be checked every month on both sides (make sure everyone has up-to-date cell numbers, no changes in pilots).


Campus Property Maps:
UCSF property boundaries are highlighted in yellow or outlined in black.

Mission Bay


Mission Center Building

Mount Zion

Laurel Heights


The UC Office of the President provides system-wide expertise, support and training for regulatory compliance, risk management and the safe operation of UASs. Please refer to UC Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety for more detailed information, including applicable FAA regulations.

FAA AC Rule 107: The FAA provides a summary of the rule here, while the full text can be found here.

UAS/Drone Filming Policy within San Francisco: http://filmsf.org/filming-droneuas

Contact Us: Drones@ucsf.edu.