Otter Tail County. Huh? Yup. The government of a rural western Minnesota county with a population of 53,700 is the only Minnesota entity that has formally asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a license to operate a drone (more correctly, a UAS - Unmanned Aircraft System) in U.S. air space. Meanwhile, big counties like Ramsey and Hennepin, and research institutions like the University of Minnesota, are sitting on the sidelines. That fact left a lot of folks scratching their heads when the FAA recently released the list of the 61 operators across the nation who had asked for permission to fly a drone in the air space of the United States.
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Comment: As part of the FAA re-authorization bill signed in February (See: Commercial Drones to be Added to U.S. Airspace) the FAA is required to take a series of steps to facilitate the full introduction of commercial UAS's into U.S. airspace by September 2015. To date, those steps have included announcing on May 14, 2012 that the FAA and Department of Justice had reached agreement on a training protocol that will allow police departments to begin using UAS's without a FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA), and an indication from the FAA that by December 2012 it will select six test sites that will be used to evaluate "best practices" for the introduction of commercial drones into the federal airspace. For more information on these developments, see the FAA news release titled: FAA Makes Progress with UAS Integration. The parent site for the FAA's UAS effort is located here: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).
As the gates open on this capability across the next three years - look for BIG changes when it comes to availability, timeliness and affordability of aerial imagery.