Can you fly drones on campus?


Photo credit: Matthew Claybrook

Photo by Matthew Claybrook

Last spring semester, Colton Hawkins — a current junior — was flying his drone over the Trinity University Stadium so that he could record a track workout. Hawkins was, however, approached by TUPD and asked to stop using his drone that day.

“TUPD had driven up and said, ‘Hey, you just need to make sure it’s certified, and I don’t think this one’s certified.’ They were really nice about it,” Hawkins said. “Basically, the problem was they didn’t want me flying into windows and looking into buildings. I understood, so I got it certified with the FAA. I haven’t been using it, but I am allowed to use it.”

Anyone interested in flying drones, including students, must first meet all of the regulations required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Part of the rules include having their drone registered with the FAA, which is just basically giving it a tail number so that they know who owns it, what frequency they’re using, things like that,” said Ivan Pendergast, emergency management coordinator. “The FAA tail number is a registration piece that costs five bucks. Once they’re familiar with all those rules, the Trinity campus is within the five-mile radius of the airport, so anything that goes up in the air, the San Antonio air traffic control (ATC) needs to know what’s happening. To notify the air traffic control, it’s an app now. It’s really simple to do, it’s just a couple of steps that the individual has to go through.”

One app that people can use to notify ATC is called AirMap. In addition to registering with the FAA and notifying ATC, students who want to fly drones on campus must also notify TUPD.

“The chief of police needs to know that it’s happening and authorize it,” Pendergast said. “It’s really just making sure that those steps have been taken prior. If somebody wants to fly their drone, when they email the chief of police, there’s going to be some questions. Are you registered? What’s your registered number? Where are you going to fly it? Just making sure that it’s not during a football game, in the stands, we’re not doing races through the halls. We want to be able to make sure that the students have the ability to do what they want to do, but we also need to worry about those students who have the concern of their safety [due to] a drone going by them.”

Trinity has implemented the additional step of notifying TUPD because the campus is a private property.

“It makes sense for Trinity’s chief of police to facilitate this responsibility because of the resources the [chief] has to make sure that there are no conflicts such as with events that may be happening near where the person wants to fly their drone,” Pendergast wrote in an email. “This process also makes it easier to notify the on-duty officers of the activity so there is less confusion. It’s really about ensuring better communication among everyone that needs to know, even for the persons that call in to report seeing a drone on campus.”

Trinity currently uses drones in an official capacity for marketing and communications purposes.

“We use them in marketing and communications just for video production for the university — any type of aerial shots for the university — just to promote our campus,” said Taylor Stakes, video and multimedia manager for Strategic Communications and Marketing. “We don’t fly it that often just because of the amount of work that’s involved in making sure we’re following all the FAA rules and making sure students are safe if we’re flying near students.”

Hawkins has not used his drone on campus recently, but he has flown it around in other parts of San Antonio.

“I’ve been to downtown San Antonio and flown it up and videoed the buildings and everything,” Hawkins said. “I think there’s a good chance I’ll probably fly it on campus sometime. I like taking pictures and stuff, so having the option of taking aerial photos without being on a roof, I like that.”

Students interested in flying drones on campus should email Paul Chapa at pc[email protected]. More information about Trinity’s policy on drones can be found on the university website.