Friday, August 19, 2016

The City Spot Café: Drones and UAS

Definition: Drones are unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of their support equipment—control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc.—that you need to operate the unmanned aircraft i.e. the “system.”


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in charge of figuring out how UAS will play nice with others in the national airspace.

Plain-language explanation: Drones or UAS are quickly becoming a common sight in the skies. From photographers to police; public works employees to online retail giants like Amazon, it seems everyone is getting involved in the UAS game. But what should cities do about it? And what do they need to know if they want to join the fray?

In the news: Discussions about drones are currently taking place in the cities of Andover, Perham, and Baxter, for example.

Pros: UAS can be an awesome tool for cities, helping with everything from search and rescue operations to helping inspections of water towers. A city may want to explore regulating UAS use because of privacy concerns, but also general peace and enjoyment—after all, it is hard to relax with countless drones buzzing overhead! (We have enough mosquitoes as it is).

Cons: As is common with new technology, the law has not caught up with UAS and there are still many questions. For example, if a city uses a UAS with video recording capabilities, there are many questions regarding how the video data would be classified from a data practices perspective, and how long the city would be required to keep the video footage. If a UAS is used for police operations, there are important legal questions regarding when a warrant may or may not be required. In regard to city regulation, it seems likely cities have little authority to regulate UAS, because the FAA holds jurisdiction in this area. 

League position: The League is closely monitoring any and all developments regarding UAS issues—both what cities might be able to regulate, but also how cities can take to the skies themselves. Cities presently are required to register with the FAA before using drones. If you’re thinking about it, or considering regulating UAS operations within your city, please contact the League for more information.

Resource: More information on city use of drones can be found in the Cities Bulletin. Want additional info on UAS? The FAA has some great resources. In terms of what local governments may be able to regulate, please see this great fact sheet. So you want to take to the sky with a city-owned UAS, eh? Be sure to follow all FAA requirements. And if citizens are interested in learning more about the requirements to fly UAS, the FAA is available to help

This information has been compiled by Quinn O'Reilly, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1271.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

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