The Drone Thinking Initiative

Drone Policy at Smith

Safety Code for Small Airborne Objects on Institutional Property

For the purposes of this code, Small Airborne Objects (SAOs) are understood to include any balloon, kite,rocket, projectile, model aircraft, drone, small unmanned aircraft, flying toy, or similar device used below the federal navigable airspace for conventional manned aircraft(1). Authority for this code derives from the long-standing principle that the landowner, in the words of the United States Supreme Court, has“exclusive control of the immediate reaches” of the airspace(2). The primary purpose of this code is therefore to ensure safe and orderly use of institutional property.

Except when used for sanctioned sports and under the purview of the athletic director, any Small Airborne Object (SAO) used on institutional property:

  • shall not weigh more than 2 pounds or exceed 60 mph unless explicitly authorized(3);
  • shall not create an undue hazard to unaffiliated persons or property(4);
  • shall not exceed 400 feet AGL unless authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration(5);
  • shall not enter any other property, below 400 feet AGL, without permission from the landowner;
  • shall not create a nuisance or survey any other property without landowner permission(6);
  • shall not carry any weapon or significant amount of any hazardous substance(7);
  • shall display the operator’s contact information if it is capable of sustained flight;
  • shall give right of way to, and not be used in proximity of, any full-scale aircraft;
  • shall adhere to Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular 91-57 as appropriate(8);

Any SAO not conforming to this safety code or any unidentified SAO of concern below 400 feet AGLon institutional property should be reported immediately to campus police.

(1) Model aircraft similar to drones and unmanned aircraft have been freely used for teaching, research, and recreation sincethe 1930’s. Kites, balloons and projectiles have been in use for centuries. Such tools are used in a wide range of fields including aeronautics, robotics, environmental science, GIS, agriculture, art, archaeology, film production, and journalism.

(2) See, for example, United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946), Griggs v. Allegheny County, 369 U.S. 84 (1962), California v.Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986), Florida v. Riley, 488 U.S. 445 (1989), and Argent v. United States, 124 F. 3d 1277 (1997).

(3) The stated mass and speed limits are based on the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) definition of a “Park Flyer”, a small model airplane that is considered to be safe enough for use in a public park. AMA is a leading nationwide community-
based organization responsible for the type of model-aircraft safety programming specified in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-95). SAOs that weigh more than two pounds or exceed 60 mph must be approved by a designated institutional authority (e.g., safety committee, officer, director, administrator, etc.) for safety and/or compliance prior to outdoor use.

(4) Any SAO that could plausibly cause serious injuries (due to its mass, speed, power, and/or construction) shall not be used in proximity to populated areas, public roads, outdoor events, or unaffiliated persons unless approved by the designated institutional authority for safety and/or compliance.

(5) Height AGL (Above Ground Level) is interpreted as the distance between the SAO and the nearest surface of the Earth.

(6) Nuisance and surveillance are considered safety issues because they can create conflict and promote reckless acts.

(7) Small batteries and other power sources with appropriate protections are not considered hazardous for the purposes of this code. This code, however, does not supersede other institutional chemical safety and compliance policies.

(8) The designated institutional authority shall notify nearby airports as specified in the advisory.


UAV & Model Aircraft Policy

Smith College governance document for UAV and Model Aircraft use on Smith College Property.  Established February 27th, 2017 with approval by the President’s Cabinet.


SAO Safety Code – Implementation Guidelines

This document complements the SAO Safety Code by providing more detailed and specific guidance.It is anticipated that it may be updated periodically by the Safety Committee(1) in response to new considerations that may arise.

Except for common sporting and recreational objects such as balls and Frisbees, all SAOs used on Smith College property should follow the SAO Safety Code in accordance with the additional guidance below:

  1. Compliance with College Safety Policy
    1. Students should not use SAOs outdoors without supervision from an accountable faculty or staff member. SAOs that could potentially inflict a serious injury require the presence of the accountable supervisor during outdoor use.
    2. As with other activities on campus, any injury or property damage caused by a SAO should be promptly reported to Campus Police.
  2. Compliance with SAO Safety Code
    1. All SAO activity should be confined below the following heights(2):
      • 400 feet AGL at the MacLeish Field Station
      • 250 feet AGL on the athletic fields
      • 150 feet AGL elsewhere on the main campus
    2. SAOs weighing less than 2 ounces are not restricted to any specific area of campus, but the supervising faculty or staff member is responsible for safe use.
    3. SAOs weighing more than 2 ounces, especially those capable of sustained flight, should generally be used on the athletic fields at a safe distance from unaffiliated persons, public roads, and events (see map).
    4. SAOs weighing more than 2 pounds are generally not appropriate for outdoor use on campus. These heavier SAOs may be used at the MacLeish Field Station with additional safety protocols and approval by the Field Station Manager.
    5. All SAOs that weigh more than 2 pounds or exceed 60 mph, including those used at the MacLeish Field Station, require Special Activity Approval by the Safety Committee.

*The purpose of the lower height restrictions is to ensure that SAO activity remains safely below the navigable airspace for fixed-wing aircraft approaching the Northampton Airport.

(1) The Safety Committee refers to the designated institutional authority responsible for SAO oversight at Smith College. This role is currently fulfilled by the Institutional Chemical Hygiene Committee (ICHC).

(2) The Safety Committee may authorize the use of SAOs above the stated altitudes, provided that such activity complies with local, state, and federal regulations.


SAO Weight Limits

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 3.56.14 PM.png

Map showing general areas of the Smith College campus that are appropriate for SAOs weighing less than 2 ounces and for those weighing less than 2 pounds, provided that the conditions of the SAO Safety Code are met. In general, SAOs that are capable of sustained flight and weigh more than 2 pounds should only be used at the MacLeish Field Station with written approval from the Safety Committee and Field-Station Manager.


Have any other questions about the drone policy at Smith? Click here for the SAO Safety Code Website!