Minnesota Department of Transportation

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Aeronautics and Aviation

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Drones: Information for Communities

Picture of a Drone

UAS Information for Communities

Existing Local Ordinances

Several commercial drone operators have complained to MnDOT that while they want to abide by local ordinances, they can’t reliably find them. If you have an ordinance, please publicize it using signs, notices on websites, and social media.

When MnDOT Aeronautics becomes aware of an ordinance we place a link on our webpage. If you have an ordinance and it’s not listed, please contact Tony Fernando, UAS Program Administrator, 651-234-7227, anthony.fernando@state.mn.us

Designing New Ordinances

It is important to realize that some forms of aviation regulation are pre-empted by state or federal regulation. Case law in this area is rapidly evolving.

In most instances, it would be preferable that local governments not attempt to regulate aircraft flight, including drone flight. Additionally, a US District Court has found that a city government cannot require drone operators to register their drone with the city. Note, however, Singer v City of Newton was decided in the District of Massachusetts, and is not binding precedent in Minnesota.

Rather than local government regulating drone activity, we recommend focusing on the problematic behavior:

  • If the problem is unwanted surveillance, apply peeping tom or eavesdropping ordinances
  • If the problem is noise, apply your noise ordinance

Remember, if a person is doing something in the wrong, they’re not suddenly in the right because they’ve used a drone, even if there is not a specific ordinance related to drones.

Additionally, cities have had longstanding rights to determine where aircraft can takeoff and land through zoning processes. Drones are aircraft and can be restricted via these processes as well.

A model ordinance has been created by the National League of Cities and may be useful as reference.

After enacting your ordinance, make sure to send it to MnDOT so we can include it on our webpage of local ordinances.

Flights over community events

In almost all cases, drone flight over groups of people is not permitted by federal regulations except by waiver. If your community is having an event and you intend to use a drone over people, it is important to start the FAA waiver process early, as it can take several months to complete.

In planning for events (such as fairs and parades) where there may be drones flying over people, law enforcement should develop a plan for how they will respond to drones that are spotted.

Flights over private property

Historically, landowners were assumed to own the airspace above their property ad coleum- to the top of the sky. The advent of manned aircraft made this untenable, and in a 1946 takings decision the Supreme Court held that the public has a right of flight in the navigable airspace, while property owners held a property interest in the “immediate reaches of the enveloping atmosphere” around their property. Unfortunately, neither navigable airspace nor “immediate reaches” has been subsequently defined in statute or case law.

Litigation regarding right of flight as it relates to drones is likely to become contentious and attract the attention of extremely well-funded national-scale special interest groups on all sides.

We recommend that where possible, conflicts be resolved using mechanisms that focus on why a specific drone flight is problematic. Most conflicts can be avoided from the beginning if the drone operator obtains permission from the landowner before flight.

Assistance

MnDOT is the state-level regulatory agency for aircraft in Minnesota. We are here to help your community develop a UAS plan that preserves harmony for your community. For assistance, please contact:

Tony Fernando
UAS Program Administrator
MnDOT - Office of Aeronautics
651-234-7227
anthony.fernando@state.mn.us