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Drone Over Butte

Montanans anticipating the day when their medicine, packages or even a pizza will be delivered via drone are in for a rude awakening if a new law that passed the Montana Senate severely restricting drone flights in Montana airspace is adopted.

State Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, has introduced legislation that would make drone delivery services like Amazon’s illegal in Montana. The Montana Senate voted 30-19 in favor of the drone ban, ignoring the millions of dollars and dozens of jobs drone businesses are already bringing to Montana.

Under Hinebauch’s Senate Bill 170, most drones would be banned in all airspace under 500 feet without explicit permission from the landowners below, including delivery drones. When asked how this might affect drone delivery services for goods like medicine or packages, Hinebauch said that drones should follow the existing roads on the ground rather than fly in straight lines, and if they dare fly over anyone’s property without permission, they should be fined.

This statement is likely the most ridiculous response to a realistic question one could have expected on the floor of the Montana Senate. In fact, flying in straight lines and avoiding the extra time of road travel is the entire point of using drones in delivery in the first place. Imagine if Delta Airlines or medical helicopters were asked to follow roads and never cross private property lines? Where are the property lines in the sky, anyway? Really?

This issue may be all fun and jokes for Hinebauch, but for many people in Montana like myself who work in this emerging industry, this drone ban means less money to put food on the table, pay the mortgage or pay for a business lease on an office, automobile or other needs.

Then of course there’s the fact that the Federal Aviation Administration governs aircraft and airspace, not state legislatures, for obvious reasons. If every state and city could write different rules for airspace, pilots and passengers lives would be at risk and no one would be able to fly anywhere.

SB 170 is a radical departure from all case law governing airspace ownership and use, and directly conflicts with federal law, which says that the sky is public domain and regulated solely by the FAA.

Montana legislators haven’t always been so hostile to the drone industry. In 2011, then-state Sen. Ryan Zinke, Montana’s two-term congressman and now secretary of the Interior, was among the first Montana state legislators to push for increased drone technology development for firefighters, surveyors and ag producers through partnerships with Montana’s universities.

Sadly, Heinbauch and other Montana state legislators seem intent on destroying Zinke’s and Montana’s progress towards building a drone industry in Montana. Our state legislature should be helping create jobs not working to destroy them. If this drone ban passes, Montana will lose out on billions of dollars and hundreds of high tech jobs tailor made for rural Montana entrepreneurs.

Realtors, farmers, news outlets, first responders and small-business people like myself all over Montana hope our legislators will rethink the proposed rule and join Zinke and others promoting an industry forecast to grow rapidly.

It’s time for Montana’s government to get serious about drones and put together a group of professionals, private property owners, law enforcement, drone industry representatives and airspace experts to help the state responsibly govern the drone industry without conflicting with federal law or hurting Montana businesses and working families.

Pepper Petersen is CEO of Big Sky UAV in Helena.

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Delivery Drones Take DC via Irish news

Robots are now delivering takeaways in Washington DC

Robots are now delivering takeaways in Washington DC Robots are now delivering takeaways in Washington DC

10 March, 2017 10:04

Having to awkwardly greet the person delivering your takeaway food when you’re hungover and still in your pyjamas at 5pm could soon be a thing of the past.

US company Postmates have launched their first fully robotic food delivery service based in Washington DC – and there are plans to launch it across Europe.


Built by Estonian based Starship Technologies, the robots transport food from the restaurant to your home.

You order a meal using the company’s app, and then the robot goes on a little trip to pick up your food using their nifty sensors. But, we know, we know – you have some burning questions.

How does it cope with traffic lights? How does it not get lost? How does it not crash? Well, the robot can read electronic signs, plus it has cameras which help it find its way to your home successfully. Nifty, hey?

The service is currently only a thing in Washington DC, but keep your eyes out for these on a street near you soon.

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We have been lobbying hard against the proposed MT drone ban. Here's the latest story on the ban and our efforts to stop it.MT Drone Ban GF Tribune

Heidi pic

HELENA – The state Senate on Wednesday tentatively approved a bill regarding unmanned aerial vehicles, putting forth a proposal that opponents say fly in the face of federal regulations and will outlaw drones in Montana.

Senate Bill 170 allows for fines for unauthorized operation of an unmanned aerial vehicle over property without permission. The word “drones” is not mentioned in the bill, but its sponsor, Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, and other lawmakers used the word during their discussion on the Senate floor.

“The bill deals with a change in technology,” Hinebauch said, adding that drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles will be a great asset to business and personal enjoyment.

“Now I think it is time for us, states, to have regulations for property rights,” he said.

Hinebauch said it should not hamper access, adding “if you can drive it, you can fly it.”

However, the owners of Helena-based Big Sky UAV, which uses drones in its business, said they have talked with the Federal Aviation Administration and the bill will not stand up to federal government standards.

J.D. “Pepper” Petersen and Greg Heide after the vote said in their aerial photography business they use drones for “1,000” different tasks.

The say the proposed state rule does not allow drones to go under 500 feet and the FAA dictates drones cannot fly under 400 feet. They said most drones cannot fly above 400 feet, adding SB 170 contradicts federal law and effectively outlaws drones as most cannot fly higher than 400 feet.

However, they plan to oppose it in the House and should it become law, they will challenge it.

“We’re going to fight it and we’ll bring the FAA with us,” Petersen said.

The FAA declined to speak specifically on Montana’s proposed law, but forwarded this comment: “Federal law gives the FAA sole jurisdiction over the nation’s civilian airspace. Local governments looking to adopt drone ordinances should make sure their proposed laws don’t conflict with the FAA’s jurisdiction.”

Drone technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 20 years. Today, drones are used for aerial photography, surveying, security and warfare. There have also been claims of voyeurism and trespassing. Drones are also being used in some places for deliveries.

MAINBuy Photo

A drone flies toward sunrise at Fort Peck Dam. Senate Bill 170 allows for fines for unauthorized operation of an unmanned aerial vehicle over property without permission. (Photo: Tribune photo/Kristen Inbody)

Sen. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, said about 35 states have passed laws regarding unmanned aerial vehicles.

She said SB 170 would make it hard for businesses that use drones as it conflicts with FAA rules. She said the bill needed more work.

Sen. David Howard, R-Park City, said companies such as Amazon are considering delivering packages with drones. He asked if Amazon would have to get permission from every property owner to fly over their home.

He said the bill was about a problem that doesn’t exist.

However, Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, said the bill was a good balance of personal property rights in Montana plus promoted drone technology.

The bill, which passed its second reading 30-19 and will undergo a third reading before moving on to the House, states the property owner is entitled to not less than $500 if the violation was above private property and not less than $2,500 if above a “critical” infrastructure facility.

Hinebauch said critical infrastructure facilities could be power plants, feed lot or transit centers.

Sen. JP Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman, asked if that would include reservoirs as well and prevent people from flying drones over such facilities.

She said the fact there was not clearer definitions gave her “pause.”

Hinebauch said the news media uses drones and flies over private properties.

“The news media does not strike me as being the people I want taking pictures of what I have,” he said.

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Press on the proposed Montana drone ban

J.D. "Pepper" Petersen

Destroying Montana’s drone industry will cost jobs IR

Drones in agriculture will prove to be the greatest advancement in ag in decades, and the type of high tech drone work I have seen at Montana’s Universities will help to revolutionize farming. Drones are already increasing Montana’s farm profits, and are poised to dramatically decrease water usage and herbicide input saving billions of dollars a year while keeping our environment cleaner. And that’s just the beginning!

Montana’s high tech drone industry brings millions of dollars into the economy across Montana. In small towns and big cities, from Alzada to the Yaak, drone manufacturers, operators, and associated industries employ dozens of people in Montana today. As a drone entrepreneur, I’m concerned about recently introduced legislation to severely limit drone usage in Montana.

State Senator Hinebauch’s bill is essentially a drone ban. As written, SB 170 makes it impossible to meaningfully operate a drone in Montana. Banning or severely limiting unmanned aircraft usage in Montana will hurt our economy and cost jobs. SB 170 was reportedly written to curtail rogue drone operators. As written, it isn’t legal (as it steps on federal authority over airspace) and it won’t likely stop any criminals either.

Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly dislike rogue drone operators, probably more than most. Anyone serious about unmanned flight tech looks at rogue drone operators with some level of disdain. Stopping these problem children has proved difficult, even with existing laws. These rogue drone pilots willfully flaunt their lawbreaking then post their antics on social media. Adding an ill-conceived and unenforceable Montana statute won’t stop these lawbreakers, just the law-abiding operators and hobbyists.

Per recent political ads, Montana politicians seem likely to seek a lead based solution in the form of a 12 gauge or similar remedy in response to drone problems. We are all rightly anxious about how drone technology could affect our lives, our privacy and our safety. No American wants to be harassed or surveilled by the government or anyone else. However, severely limiting drones is a knee-jerk reaction.

I’m certain that drone anxiety played into the development of SB 170, which points to good intentions with bad implementation. The proposed rule would apply heavy fines to our brightest young people who dared fly a drone in Montana airspace. Drones provide so much opportunity for STEM education our kids need in our increasingly high tech world. While drone operators unquestionably require defined boundaries, banning drone flights isn’t the answer or a good idea.

Our neighboring states of North Dakota and Idaho, whose combined airspace is second only to Montana’s, have become tech hubs for drones. The states’ University systems and private industry are seeing great benefit from drone development in the form of cash and economic diversification and growth. That means high tech jobs for local kids when they graduate college and more money into the local economy through cutting edge industry. Laws like SB 170 can kill these opportunities.

Rather than banning or severely limiting drone flights for Realtors, hobbyists, and school kids working on science projects; our Legislature can find more reasonable and enforceable privacy rules that would protect our citizens while still welcoming millions and billions of dollars in investment to our state.North Dakota and Idaho, who are both traditionally more politically conservative than Montana, have already blazed a trail for drones legislatively that protects privacy while promoting a growing industry. Last I checked Idaho had not become a drone surveillance state. Let’s use laws like Idaho’s 21-213 governing UAV’s as a starting point. It protects privacy and ensures a healthy drone industry.

Instead of bowing to drone hysteria born of ignorance, let’s work towards realistic enforceable solutions that will keep Montana on the cutting edge of a high-flying, high-tech industry. If other states have addressed drone related privacy issues without banning drones, surely Montana can too.

Pepper Petersen is CEO of Big Sky UAV in Helena. He frequently speaks on drone technology and was named among the Top 20 under 40 entrepreneurs in Helena in 2016 for his work with drones.

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The Montana Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony on a bill that would apply a civil fine against anyone flying a drone less than 500 ft over private property.
It's a dangerous step towards outlawing drones altogether, and could hobble our growing UAS industry in Montana.
It's really a horrible piece of legislation attempting to solve a problem better dealt with in other ways.
The original text called for a $500 fine for flying less than 500ft over private property.
Here's the story about the proposed rule in the Helena IR.
Below I've pasted a link to the contact info for members of the Montana Senate Judiciary committee.
Please call or email everyone of them and tell them that Montana has been on the cutting edge of drone technology and irrational fears and misguided legislation can stifle a budding Montana UAS industry.
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BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Drones raced and crashed at the first annual Bridger Cup drone flying competition Saturday. It was all good fun but the technology that powers drones can make them a lot more than toys. Tech giants like Amazon are looking to drones to change the way they deliver to customers.

Big Sky UAV CEO, Pepper Petersen, said, "The reason Amazon wants to deliver packages with drones isn't because they like drones or because they think they're cool. It's because they can save billions of dollars and open up new markets that never existed before."

Pepper said it can be used to revolutionize different industries including construction, agriculture, emergency services and delivery services.

"Now with drones, traffic doesn't matter anymore, the roads dont matter anymore, as long as the airspace is clear. and  so i think in the next five years we're going to be seeing drones do jobs we never though they would do," said Petersen.


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Big Sky UAV Offers Drones to
Aid Wildfire Victims


 Big Sky UAV, a multi-state drone service company, is offering Montana victims of wildfires free aerial imaging to assist with disaster recovery via their website at

Big SkyUAV Webpage

Increasingly drones are being used to help track and fight wildfires. Now the victims of wildfires can also access emerging drone technology to help speed the recovery process thanks to Big Sky UAV, a multi-state FAA licensed commercial drone operator headquartered in Helena, Montana.
Big Sky UAV is offering their aerial imaging service free to victims who are affected by the continuing wildfires ravaging Montana and the Western US to use for insurance claims and recovery.
Big Sky UAV CEO, J.D. Pepper Petersen, said of his company’s humanitarian drone efforts: “It’s a first step for us to help the victims and deal with recovery after the fact, but drones will soon be the single most powerful tool we will use to fight wildfires before during and after the burning starts.”
“Drones have huge potential to help mitigate wildfire damage. NASA and DARPA developed a lot of the technology today’s drones use to fight fires.” said Big Sky UAV CEO, J.D. Pepper Petersen.
Recent studies show the highest number of wildfire-fighting related deaths were due to aircraft incidents*, indicating drone deployment in fires could potentially save lives.
While studies like this bolster the drone industry’s chances of taking part in wildfire fighting efforts, drone integration into FAA regulations and firefighting flight units is slow.  
According to Petersen, “Big Sky UAV teams are ready to fight fires with our drones right now, whenever the state and federal governments are ready to get serious about using these tools we can literally deploy swarms of firefighting drones and save property and lives.”
Wildfire victims who need aerial imaging services may contact Big Sky UAV via their website at, or on Facebook at Facebook/BigSkyUAV.
Big Sky UAV, one of the first FAA licensed commercial drone operators in the United States, is on the leading edge of the drone technology revolution. With an industrial fleet of small UAV’s, state of the industry imaging capabilities, and offices in Helena, Montana and Memphis, Tennessee; Big Sky UAV meets the needs of a diverse clientele in the infrastructure repair, agriculture, utility, real estate, TV, mining, construction, forestry, transportation, and insurance industries.
Contact: J.D. Pepper Petersen, CEO, Big Sky UAV
*The attached picture, Courtesy of Big Sky UAV, shows Big Sky UAV CEO, J.D. Pepper Petersen piloting a drone near Helena, Montana's historic Firetower, built to watch over and protect the community from fires.
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