As most of you probably already know (and if you don’t you should) it would be illegal to fly above 500 feet not only in Montana but anywhere in the US without special exemptions. Why then, would you be required to fly above 500 feet in Montana? Well, the answer comes in the form of a Senate Bill being carried by Rep. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux. Senate Bill 170, as written, would create civil penalties for anyone who flies a drone over private property at an altitude BELOW 500 feet. Considering the FAA’s current rule states the MAXIMUM altitude drone operators are allowed to fly is 400 feet, this would effectively make flying a drone illegal. The fine would be a minimum of $500 up to $2,500.

Now I’m not saying drone operators should have free reign to fly anywhere they want. Permission should always be acquired prior to operating a drone over private property, however, there are many situations in the commercial sector where, should this bill become law, it could introduce several gray areas resulting in unnecessary fines and limitations.

Take for example a search and rescue operation. Quickly locating a missing person or deploying medical supplies can mean the difference between life and death. There are many other cases where a drone operator may pass over areas that fall into the private property designation. Railway inspection, power-line inspection, tower inspection are just three such examples where these structures need to be inspected but may be on private land.

Bill 170 is a response to drone operators harassing property owners according to Hinebauch. “It’s people coming down and snooping on industry to a certain extent,” he said. “There were pipeline people that had some anti-pipeline people flying down with drones…trying to be an obstacle as far as building pipeline.”

Currently a few proposed amendments would allow drones to fly for commercial purposes as well as exempt law enforcement and insurance companies, however, these amendments are not currently written into the bill.

I urge you to contact members of the Montana Senate Judiciary committee and express your feelings on this bill. There are better ways to solve the issue of pilots who are using their craft for irresponsible purposes. A bill such as this effects responsible pilots who operate within the limits of the law without doing much to stop the few bad apples who ignore the laws entirely.

Must Fly Above 500 Feet in Montana