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Navigating drone laws and safety in Montana

Great Falls aerial view
Great Falls aerial view
great falls aerial view
great falls aerial
Posted at 5:07 PM, Jul 09, 2024

GREAT FALLS — Unmanned aerial systems, better known as drones, have become a popular hobby and offer a unique perspective on the world. However, flying a drone comes with a set of regulations that every enthusiast should be aware of. Understanding FAA, state, and federal rules is crucial to avoid trouble. Here's what you need to know.

Commercial Use and Part 107 Certification
First and foremost, if you are using your drone for commercial purposes, you must obtain a Part 107 certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This certification ensures that you understand the rules and regulations surrounding commercial drone flights.

Class D Airspace in Great Falls
Much of Great Falls falls under Class D airspace, which surrounds airports. In these areas, manned aircraft have the right of way for obvious safety reasons. To assist with navigating these regulations, there is a free app available that allows you to input your flight details and receive immediate FAA authorization in most areas.

Restrictions in National Parks
Certain areas are strictly off-limits for drone flights, such as Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. The National Park Service (NPS) has enforced these regulations since 2014 to protect wildlife, preserve the natural soundscape, and ensure the safety and enjoyment of park visitors. Drones can disturb nesting birds, scare animals, and pose risks if they crash, making these restrictions essential for conservation and safety.

Drone Use in Montana State Parks
In Montana state parks, drone use is allowed but heavily regulated. According to a representative from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, drone operators must contact the site manager for permission, as each site has different rules. The site manager will review the request and decide whether to allow drone flights.

Additionally, drone operators in Montana state parks must adhere to all FAA rules, including:

  • Flying below 400 feet
  • Keeping drone within visual line of sight
  • Not flying over people (with exceptions)

Research and Resources
Regardless of where you plan to fly, conducting thorough research is crucial. Make sure to check both state of Montana and FAA websites for comprehensive resources and guidelines: FWP Public Use Guidelines; FWP Commerical Guidelines; FAA Drone Info.

Being A Good Neighbor

Know Before You Fly is an education campaign organized by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International, and the Consumer Technology Association, in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Their shared goal is to educate prospective users about the safe and responsible operation of drones.

Below is a list of voluntary guidelines for “neighborly” drone use, which serve to provide guidance to UAS operators on ways to balance their rights as drone users and other people’s rights to privacy. The objective of the process was to develop and communicate best practices, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private UAS use in the National Airspace System.

Guidelines for Neighborly Drone Use:

  • If you can, tell other people you’ll be taking pictures or video of them before you do so.
  • If you think someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy, don’t violate that privacy.
  • Don’t fly over other people’s private property without permission if you can easily avoid doing so.
  • If someone asks you to delete personal data about him or her that you’ve gathered, do so, unless you’ve got a good reason not to.
  • If anyone raises privacy, security, or safety concerns with you, try and listen to what they have to say, as long as they’re polite and reasonable about it.
  • Don’t harass people with your drone.

Important Note: the best practices do not apply to news-gatherers and news reporting organizations, which are protected by U.S. law and the First Amendment to the Constitution. These organizations should operate under the ethics rules and standards of their organization, and according to existing federal and state laws.