Drone regulations vary in Sioux Falls for hobbyists, commercial pilots

Published: Jul. 14, 2017 at 6:41 PM CDT
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A close encounter between a drone and a Sanford AirMed helicopter earlier this week has commercial pilots concerned.

Luckily, no one was hurt, but four people were on board the helicopter at the time.

Drone laws vary for commercial pilots and hobbyists and require various permits, but experts say it is important to make sure you know what those rules are and to abide by them in order to avoid a disaster.

"The air traffic system right now is a system that is very old and this is new technology, so they're trying to fit in drones to this older system so the rules they have in place are to keep everybody safe," Aerial Horizons Director of Flight Operations Michael Klarenbeek said.

Sanford Health said it is hard to know whether a drone crashing into their AirMed helicopter could cause a major disaster.

"We don't know what the possible outcomes could be, obviously, you know, anything could happen," Sanford Health Air Transport Lead Safety Officer Josh Weiland said.

While the likelihood of the drone hitting the helicopter in this case was slim, safety is key.

"It's important to just follow the rules, just be cognoscente of yourself and your piece of equipment when you're operating it so everyone stays safe," Weiland said.

But how do you know what those regulations are? Aerial Horizons, a commercial drone business in Sioux Falls, said sometimes drones do not come with instructions.

"They can go to knowbeforeyoufly.org, that's the FAA's website, and they also have a know Before You Fly app," Klarenbeek said

The app has all the information a hobbyist might need.

"That app will tell you if you're in the five-mile radius of the airport, it'll tell you altitudes that kind of thing so the FAA is trying to make it as user friendly for the hobbyists as they can," Klarenbeek said.

Now, Sanford Health is hoping this "near miss" will serve as a chance to educate about the proper ways to fly a drone.

"Just be safe when you're using the drones, have fun with them and then just keep in mind when you're using them that that altitude is there for a reason, and that's to keep the other aircraft that provides a service to our community safe and for our family and friends flying in and out of the airport as well," Weiland said.

Those regulations require all pilots stay under 400 feet and they cannot fly within five miles of an airport. If you want to fly a drone within a five mile radius of an airport, air traffic control must be notified. Aerial Horizons has a special permit to fly in downtown Sioux Falls.

The FAA also now encourages drone pilots register their equipment online and take advantage of the tools they have like the Know When to Fly app.

If you are curious about learning more about drones or taking some piloting classes, Aerial Horizons offers them.