Event Brings in Minnesota DOT, Feds and Enthusiasts to Iron Out Drone Rules

In a first-of-its-kind event, officials from the state and federal government gathered with recreational drone pilots to set the record straight on rules and regulations surrounding the increasingly popular technology.

by Deanna Weniger, Pioneer Press / May 7, 2018
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(TNS) — Bryan Hanson watched in fascination Saturday as Steve Fines of Fines Aerial Imaging in St. Cloud unfolded the six arms and propellers on his DJI M600 Pro hexacopter drone and then sent it flying.

Hanson, of Champlain, brought his 13-year-old son Cole to the Minnesota Drone Day event at Blackhawk Middle School in Eagan to foster his interest in engineering and drones. Over 300 people attended.

It was the first event of its kind that brought together the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Minnesota Drone Advocacy Council and the Minnesota Autonomous Vehicle Meetup group and multiple vendors for the purpose of educating enthusiasts and the general public on drone use.

What started out as an extension of the model airplane hobby has exploded over the past 10 years into a multi-faceted industry used by groups such as law enforcement, realtors, insurance agents, gamers and regular hobbyists.

Drones can be used to search for lost people, find suspects in a cornfield, take aerial photos and videos, locate malfunctioning solar panels, investigate fires, help farmers manage crops and more.

But the public often sees only the sinister side of drone use, said Rich Hanson, president of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

“There is significant concern in the Department of Defense that this technology can be used for wrong purposes,” he said. “The biggest challenge, I think, is education. Not just for the pilots, but the public.”

Kevin Morris, of the FAA, said the laws on operating a drone continue to change and misinformation about what is legal is ubiquitous.

“Myth: the FAA doesn’t control airspace below 400 feet,” he said. “Fact: There is no unregulated airspace.”

Model aircraft operators are not exempt from FAA regulations, nor does it matter if the pilot is not a commercial operator.

“If your UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) weighs more than a couple of sticks of butter, you’re going to need to register it,” he said.

He warned folks to go to the right website, faadronezone.faa.gov to register and not fall for impostors charging more than the FAA’s $5 fee.

“When you Google registration, the first four or five hits are not us,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn., spoke about regulation at the event and his efforts in Washington to establish a clear framework for the operation of UAS and lay out clear protections for privacy.

“We have to rethink what we’ve always assumed would work in our air space,” he said.

©2018 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.