Research Policy Handbook


Operation of Unmanned Flying Vehicles

Policy Authority

Authority for research activities:
David Studdert, Vice Provost and Dean of Research

Authority for student activities:
C. Matthew Snipp, Vice Provost of Student Affairs

Authority for all other activities:
Martin Shell, Vice President and Chief External Relations Officer

Policy Contact

Now in Policy Details

Establishes University approval procedures and review committee to facilitate flights of unmanned flying vehicles in a safe and responsible manner. Sets forth flight approval criteria to ensure consistency with the University’s mission to promote the public welfare, advance knowledge, and educate students. Prohibits third party flights from within or above University lands.

1. Introduction and Applicability

This policy applies to Unmanned Flying Vehicle flights. Unmanned Flying Vehicle (or “UFV”), as used in this policy, means any device used, intended to be used, or designed to fly in the air, which is operated without the possibility of direct physical human intervention from within or on the vehicle. UFVs include but are not limited to model aircraft, drones, unmanned aircraft systems (or “UAS”), rockets, and weather balloons, but do not include satellites. 

This policy prohibits Third Party flights from within or above University lands. For the purposes of this policy, current faculty, students, staff, or other persons acting on behalf of the University pursuant to an approved agreement (or “Approved Vendors”) are not “Third Parties,” and may fly UFVs with the approval of the UFV Committee. All other persons or entities are Third Parties and are prohibited from flying UFVs from within or above University lands.  

This policy applies to the following individuals or entities:

  • Third Parties operating or intending to operate UFVs on or above University lands, including hobbyist, recreational, or aerial photography flights. Such flights are prohibited by this policy.
  • Faculty, students, staff, or Approved Vendors flying UFVs on or above University lands, or on behalf of the University at any location. Thus, for example, the policy applies to faculty, students, or staff seeking to pursue the following activities:
    • Research and development or data collection by flying UFVs in the pursuit of their University duties, whether on or off University property;
    • UFV flight as a part of their University courses, or research activities, whether on or off University property;
    • Agreements or other arrangements for Approved Vendors and other persons to fly UFVs on behalf of the University (such as for aerial photography, or for any of the reasons above), whether on or off University property; and
    • Model aircraft or other UFV flight from within or above University property for recreational or hobby purposes (which will require membership in a University sanctioned hobbyist club).

This policy does not apply to:

  • Anyone flying UFVs if such flight is (1) unrelated to University coursework, research, or employment and (2) such flight is not from within or above University lands.  

2. Background

In pursuing its mission to promote the public welfare, advance knowledge, and train its increasingly global student base, the University may seek to utilize UFVs. The University recognizes that UFVs may enable faster, better, cheaper, and safer scientific data gathering, and because of their versatility, may serve as useful learning tools for students. At the same time, these vehicles present unique issues to environmental health, safety, regulatory compliance, and privacy, and these issues must be balanced with the University’s other missions.

3. Policy Statement

A. Third Parties

UFVs may not be flown from within or above University property by Third Parties.


B. Stanford Faculty, Staff and Students and Approved Vendors

UFVs may be flown by faculty, students, staff, and Approved Vendors if and only if the flight is approved in advance by the University’s UFV Committee in addition to any other applicable entities within the University, the flight has a nexus to the University’s mission or community, and the flight adheres to any limits prescribed by the UFV Committee to ensure safety and compliance with all applicable laws. 

C. Stanford Research Activities

Research activities involving UFVs must comply with the University’s RPH 1.4 Openness in Research Policy.

4. UFV Committee

The UFV Committee will be responsible for reviewing and approving all UFV flights by or on behalf of faculty, students, and staff.  

The UFV Committee will comprise representatives from the following University offices or departments: School of Engineering (Faculty Representative); Humanities and Sciences (Faculty Representative); Dean of Research; Student Affairs; Risk Management; General Counsel; Public Safety; Land, Building, and Real Estate; and Public Affairs.  The UFV Committee may also consult with other University offices or departments as necessary.


5. UFV Committee Review and Approval Process

UFV flights may require Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approvals and/or permissions from local authorities, other regulatory agencies, or private parties.  Certain FAA approvals take several months to seek and obtain. Further, in some cases, the UFV Committee may need to refer issues to impacted Stanford offices and departments.

In light of these constraints, the UFV Committee must be notified, using the linked form, at the earliest possible time of a proposed UFV flight governed by this policy. For flights involving hobbyist or recreational activities, refer to the streamlined procedures provided in the linked form. In all other cases, in no event may the notification be submitted fewer than 10 business days before the envisioned

  1. flight,
  2. relevant commitment of funds or resources for the flight, or
  3. binding commitment or proposal relevant to the flight, whichever is earliest. 

For flights posing new or significant risks or novel questions, additional review time or multiple meetings may be required, and requesters are advised to submit the request well in advance to avoid delays or disapproval. 

The UFV Committee will determine and communicate whether the proposed UFV flight is permissible, and if so, under what conditions. If the proposed UFV flight is permissible, the UFV Committee will issue an electronic certificate of approval, which will be provided to the requester. If the proposed UFV flight is not permissible, the UFV Committee may provide guidance on whether and how the requester could address deficiencies in the request. No UFV flights may proceed without the certificate of approval.

6. General Criteria Considered by UFV Committee

In determining whether to grant a request, the UFV Committee considers the following issues: 

• Does the flight comport with the University’s scientific research and education mission? 

• Does the flight comply with applicable laws and regulations, such as Federal regulations, privacy laws, and other state and local laws?  

• Does the flight pose safety or privacy concerns for the University, the University community, or the general public? If so, has the requester identified protocols that will adequately address or mitigate potential risks?

• If the flight is conducted by an Approved Vendor, is there an appropriate written agreement in place?

• Is the flight in a permissible location? Among other considerations, specific locations on campus may have use restrictions or local permission requirements, applicable on a case-by-case basis. For example, flights are generally not permissible in locations such as the Oval, Main Quad, Memorial Court, the Central Energy Facility, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, in the vicinity of a highway or road, above public venues or thoroughfares, and in the vicinity of hospitals or airports.


7. Submission and Contact Information

To request approval for a UFV flight please submit an application to the UFV committee and allow a minimum of 10 business days for routine requests, with additional time for more complex requests.  

Applications for a UFV flight can be found in the Related Items section in the Documents Tab below. Applications should be sent to

Supplementary information on Stanford UFV policy and procedures can be found in the UFV FAQs.