Drone enthusiasts warned to know rules and regulations before taking flight

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You may be someone who got a drone for Christmas or maybe you bought one for someone else, but there are some rules you need to know before you take flight.

Now, MnDOT is teaming up with Twin Cities PBS on a new video to get that information out.

Pilots were operating very small drones Thursday night at Bauhaus Brew Lab in Northeast Minneapolis. They are so small that they aren’t dangerous if one hits you.

However, there are strict rules about flying outdoors and MnDOT wants to make sure the rules are clear with a new video.

The popularity of drones is soaring.

“I’ve been interested in drones 3, 4, 5 years, easily, but really recently it’s been much easier to get into,” said Joel Stewart, the co-founder of Hydra FPV.

Hydra FPV helps organize flight nights. He sees the positive side of drones like the excitement of flying.

What Stewart does not want to see is a new pilot who doesn’t understand the rules.

“We’ve been, I think, fortunate in that not many people have really damaged property or hurt somebody significantly where we can keep doing this but it’s only going to take a few incidents or lawsuits for this hobby to get shut down and that’s something we don’t want,” Stewart said.

MnDOT agrees and wants to make it clear drones that fly outside are aircraft and are regulated by the FAA.

“People do get the idea they’re just toys because you can buy them anywhere, but under law, they’re aircraft and aircraft are very regulated in the United States,” said Tony Fernando, who oversees all things drone-related for MnDOT.

He was featured on a recent video that explains the rules surrounding flight.

“In general, what we’re seeing is if there’s a problem at least in Minnesota, it’s not because someone is out to maliciously do something wrong. It’s because they haven’t been taught how to operate safely,” Fernando said.

Fernando says it is most important to register your drone with the FAA, never fly near people, airports, hospitals or above 400 feet and to always keep your drone where you can see it.

“We think that most drone operators if they’re aware there are rules and regulations they’ll comply with them,” he said.

The FAA will soon be changing the rules for recreational drone pilots and could require pilots to pass some sort of knowledge test, which is something commercial drone pilots already have to do.

There is no timeline, but MnDOT thought it could happen by summer.