Minnesota Department of Transportation

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Aeronautics and Aviation

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Drones: Government UAS Operators

Picture of a Drone

Information on UAS for Law Enforcement

Registration

There is a belief amongst certain law enforcement personnel that the use of drones by law enforcement is exempt from aviation regulations. That belief is completely untrue, and can get your agency into a lot of trouble. Aircraft registration is required for all government use of drones, and in most cases federal pilot licensing is required as well.

In Minnesota, governments (including law enforcement agencies) operating drones are exempt from aircraft registration fees. Here's what you'll need to do to meet the Minnesota requirements:

  • Register your aircraft with the FAA before registering with MnDOT. You will need the N- or F- registration number assigned by the FAA to register with MnDOT
  • Go to MnDOT’s Aircraft Registration website for instructions on how to register your aircraft with MnDOT

Law enforcement drone operations are subject to federal aviation regulations. Most law enforcement operations can be conducted under the small aircraft rule or a Certificate of Authorization. Contact the FAA for more details. Minnesota imposes no state-level restrictions on law enforcement drone operation.

Receiving complaints about drones

In general, the public has a right to fly in the navigable airspace and a landowner has a property interest in the “immediate reaches of the enveloping atmosphere” (see United States vs Causby , 328 US 256 – Supreme Court 1946). However, neither “navigable airspace” nor “immediate reaches” have been defined by subsequent statutes and most case law involves manned aircraft.

When responding to a complaint about a drone, MnDOT Aeronautics recommends that rather than telling a drone operator that they have no right to fly in a specific place, law enforcement should focus on why the drone flight is problematic:

  • If the complaint is about pictures, apply your procedures for a peeping tom
  • If the complaint is about noise, apply your noise ordinance procedures
  • If the complaint is about harassment, apply your harassment procedures

Additionally, careless or reckless operation of an aircraft (including a drone) is a misdemeanor in Minnesota (360.075 Subd. 5).

Make sure you obtain the drone operator’s identification and registration information

  • In most cases, recreational drone users should be registered with the FAA
  • In all cases, commercial drone users should be registered with both the FAA and MnDOT; many commercial drone users are additionally required to have a commercial operations license from MnDOT

Contact the FAA and/or MnDOT if the operator does not provide registration information. Failure to comply with MnDOT aircraft registration and commercial licensing requirements is a misdemeanor under Minnesota Statutes.

Assistance

MnDOT is the state-level regulatory agency for aircraft in Minnesota. We are here to help you with your UAS operations. For assistance, please contact:

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