Drone Operations

Requirements 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 drone flights are prohibited at UCSF.

Requirements for Drone Projects

Anyone who seeks to operate a drone for university business must comply with the following:

  • Current Pilot's License for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • Current FAA UAS Certificate of Registration
  • Certificate of Insurance (COI) with $5,000,000 in liability coverage
  • Flight plan with graphical map depicting location of project flight(s)
  • Submit drone application to UCSF EH&S via https://ehs.ucop.edu/drones/

Program Overview

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) – A UAS (commonly known as a drone) consists of an unmanned aircraft, a ground-based control unit, and communications between the two.

This guidance 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 UCOP guidance policy on drones can be found here.

Drone Flight Application Instructions

Prior to flying a drone on UCSF-owned property, complete the following:

1. Register your Drone online with FAA.

2. Submit an application using the UC Drone Web App no fewer than 5 business days prior to proposed date of flight; flights at Mission Bay require an additional 5 business days due to Helideck operations — please plan accordingly.

  • Instructions on how to use the UC Drones Program can be found here.
  • Campus Property Maps: UCSF property boundaries are highlighted in yellow or outlined in black for Mission Bay, Parnassus, Mission Center Building, Mount Zion, and Laurel Heights. 

3. During the approval process of the application, please provide additional information/documentation which may be requested through the UC Drones Program.

4. With approval from UCSF EH&S through the UC Drones Program, drone operators are required to wear high visibility reflective vests during operation on UCSF Property.

  • Drone operators are to comply with all FAA regulations and any additional UCSF flight precautions and restrictions.​

5. A Post-Flight Report must be submitted through the UC Drones Program immediately after any flight(s) operations.

  • Any accidents or damage to people or UC property must be immediately reported to the UCSF Police Department.

6. Review the UCOP Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Policy Guidance Document for additional details and restrictions when operating a drone at UCSF.

Third Party Flight Requests (non-UCSF employees, faculty, staff or students)

Flight requests by non-UCSF personnel are to be submitted using the UC Drone Web App by a UCSF employee, faculty/staff member or student who manages the project. Please contact [email protected] for further information.

Drone Flight Request Approval Process

Applications undergo review 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
  • UCSF Medical Center Helideck Manager

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 are unacceptable due to the safety risks placed on helicopter flight.


Oracle Park

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

General Guidelines

  • Do not fly over any non-UAS/drone crewmember. This includes crew or workers within the same company, but not part of the UAS/drone 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 25 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 recurring pre-approved operations, provide notice at least one business day in advance to [email protected]. 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).



  1. Refer to UC Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety for more detailed information, including applicable FAA regulations.
  1. The UC Office of the President provides system-wide expertise, support and training for regulatory compliance, risk management and the safe operation of UASs. 
  1. FAA AC Rule 107: The FAA provides a summary of the rule here, while the full text can be found here.
  1. UAS/Drone Filming Policy involving property of the city of San Francisco: http://filmsf.org/filming-droneuas

image of an airplane


EHS Categories

Occupational Safety