MN pilots spotting more drones


Jay Olstad, KARE

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – A helicopter pilot came close to a drone flying nearby Wednesday morning causing the pilot to change course.

It highlights a growing issue among pilots, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Scott Churchill owns Scott’s Helicopters, which also operations KARE 11’s news chopper. He said one of his pilots came within 200 yards of a drone while she treated a swamp below for mosquitoes.

“So she deviated off to one direction, and it deviated the other way,” he said. “Depending on where it would hit on the aircraft, absolutely it could create a catastrophic accident.”

After the pilot noticed that drone flying near her, she called the tower at the Flying Cloud Airport, which is only about five miles away. The airport then called Eden Prairie Police, but officers were not able to find the drone’s operator.

“They’re not supposed to be that close to an airport, and they’re not supposed to, by Minnesota law they’re not even supposed to operate off an airport,” he said.

The FAA is currently studying how to regulate drones, also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS. Unless you get permission from the federal government, drones fall under the model aircraft regulations, which prohibit operators from flying drones more than 400 feet in the air, and within five miles of an airport.

It’s such an issue, the FAA started a campaign called “Know Before You Fly”, which warns people about the dangers of operating drones.

And drone sightings from pilots are increasing. The FAA receives about 60 drone reports from pilots a month.

“We aren’t able to verify what the pilots actually saw in many instances,” said FAA spokesperson Elizabeth Isham Cory. “But pilots rarely have taken evasive action.”

This may have been the second sighting by a pilot over Eden Prairie in as many days, according to Churchill.

“In this same location there was another incident reported by an airplane yesterday,” he said.

KARE 11 was unable to get a hold of anyone with the Flying Cloud Airport to get more information.

“It’s got us concerned right now,” said Churchill.

And while the FAA figures out exactly how to police drones, people like Scott Churchill worry things will get worse.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more of this in the metro down the road,” he said.