Holiday Gifts That Fly

by Rick Braunig & Tara Kalar, with Dan McDowell

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is concerned about the estimated 1,000,000 “drones” that are expected to be purchased and potentially flown starting around the Christmas Holiday. The possibility of one million new “drone” flyers out there all over the country represents a challenge to the aviation community to educate these new owners on the safety guidelines for these new vehicles.

A Drone By Several Other Names

Sometimes called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), sometimes called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), sometimes called Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), sometimes called Model Aircraft, the titles are interchangeable and the regulations that apply are contingent upon the use and not the vehicle.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration are working with unmanned aircraft organizations to promote UAV safety and help the operators to understand their responsibilities when operating their UAVs.

Recreational Use

Model aircraft operations are for hobby or recreational purposes only. The FAA recently released an updated advisory circular on model aircraft, which made four points significant to UAV operators:

• The FAA considers UAVs to be aircraft.

• The FAA sets out five criteria for determining if an operation meets the requirement to be considered model aircraft.

• The FAA makes it clear that model aircraft operators can be cited for careless and reckless operations and for operations that endanger the National Airspace System.

• Model Aircraft operators need to understand the airspace system well enough to check Notices To Airmen (NOTAMs), to avoid Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), and to avoid other controlled airspace, such as Class B airspace, Class E airspace and the airspace around airports.

Here is a link to the Advisory Circular:

Learn more about model aircraft operations.

Another good resource is:

Commercial Use of a UAV

Before using a UAV for business use, the operator must have an airworthiness certificate or a Section 333 Exemption. In addition, the operator must have a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization from the FAA for the operations to be conducted. Operators can find help on the web in completing the requests that need to be submitted to the FAA:

Any aircraft covered by an airworthiness certificate or a Section 333 exemption has to have an N-number. N-numbers are registration numbers assigned by the FAA. They are called N-numbers because they all start with the letter N, which is the country code for the United States. To get an N-number for your aircraft, start here:

MnDOT Requires UAVs With FAA-Issued N-Numbers To Be Registered

Under Minnesota state law, UAVs are required to be registered with the MnDOT Office of Aeronautics. Registration is not required for unmanned aircraft operated solely for recreational use. Learn more about Aircraft Registration.

All operators of UAVs that operate their aircraft for compensation or hire are required to obtain a commercial operations license from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Forms and instructions can be found at this website:

Questions? Email us at

So, if you find a “drone” under your Christmas tree, we strongly urge you to follow the rules and guidelines shown here and via the links included throughout this article. Your safety, and the safety of those around you, and even in the air above you, depends on your preparation before you fly, as well as your skill when you fly.

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