HomeDrone industry in Minnesota blooms, battles pains

Share to Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on Twitter

Restrictions and outlaws are frustrating some operators in the rapidly growing industry.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, before it releases final rules, commercial operators need an exemption. That releases companies from a blanket prohibition on all business uses of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

The process has produced both praise and critiques from all corners of U.S. airspace and has created business activity on its own.

“I get where the FAA is coming from,” James Aarestad said about current rules. “It’s just a matter of time before one of these things hits an airplane.”

The owner of Eagle Eye Photos in Buffalo operates a Cessna aircraft for aerial photography. After 60-70 hours of working on his application, which he sent in May, Aarestad received an exemption for his drone in August.

“It’s just slow,” he said about the FAA process, which isn’t the last step for operators in this state.

After receiving a federal exemption, companies need to register machines with the Minnesota Department of Transportation if they fly them in the state. On Thursday, Tara Kaler in MnDOT’s Office of Chief Counsel said the agency has registered four operations, two of which do not originate in Minnesota. She said spreading word on registration has been a challenge, especially with so many newcomers to airspace rules.

Kaler said MnDOT has sent about 30 cease-and-desist letters to people who are not adhering to rules and appear to pose risks to aviation. She encouraged all operators, commercial or not, to visitKnowBeforeYouFly.org, which educates users about responsible flying.

Minnesota companies began receiving federal approvals in the spring. The FAA has granted more than 2,200 across the U.S.

Before late March, the federal agency considered each application individually. Then the FAA started using certain early exemptions as templates, which sped up the process. Average wait times for approval for Minnesota companies dropped but have since risen as the FAA received an increasing number of applications. The most recently approved two dozen companies in the state waited an average of about 3½ months from sending application letters — or their latest updates — to receiving exemptions.