As drones become increasingly popular with consumers, Minnesota legislators are trying to ensure that those unmanned craft are being flown safely.
While states wait for the Federal Aviation Administration FAA rules to integrate recreational drones into U.S. airspace, some Minnesota legislators want to regulate usage to address privacy, regulatory and safety concerns.
"This is an area of increasing concern to the [Minnesota Department of Transportation] and to, well, ordinary citizens," said Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope.
A slew of proposals has emerged at the State Capitol this year.
Some proposals call for new rules dictating where drones can fly, others would require a registry for the vehicles and another would require commercial users to pass a certification test, pay a registration fee and get a permit. Other proposals would regulate how law enforcement agencies could use the vehicles or make it a crime to fly drones near public safety helicopters.
"We know that in the near future, the number of drones will dramatically increase, and this is why we feel it's important that there's some early structure and regulation for drone safety," said Melissa Mulcahy, program supervisor for North Memorial Healthcare's air care unit at a House committee meeting Thursday. She testified in support of a proposal that would make it illegal to operate a drone within a mile of a public safety helicopter.
The push is part of a larger trend of states attempting to regulate drones — which can be used to for everything from surveying crops, to filming movies and to monitoring utility infrastructure — while the federal government sorts out the rapidly evolving industry, said Tom McMahon, vice president of advocacy and public affairs of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which advocates for the civil and commercial use of drones.
"We're seeing states all across the country that are introducing legislation aimed at addressing concerns about safety or other aspects of flying unmanned systems," he said.
By 2025, the association predicts that 100,000 jobs will be created with an economic impact of $82 billion as a result of the explosion of the technology and its use.
For hobbyists, the FAA already requires users of drones under 55 pounds to register. In Minnesota, 60 cease-and-desist letter have been sent to operators who haven't been cleared by the FAA or state, said Cassandra Isackson, director of MnDOT's Office of Aeronautics Services at a House transportation committee last week.
But with the FAA's regulations expected to be released this summer, some lawmakers say state legislation is unnecessary and a thinly disguised effort for the state to cash in on the booming drone industry.
These proposals have been created to "look like it's safety, and it's a revenue thing in my opinion," Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore, said at a House transportation committee meeting last week.
Christopher Aadland is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.