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Published April 30, 2012, 05:13 PM

Otter Tail County surveying project clipped by FAA regulations

Otter Tail County, MN (WDAY TV) - Otter Tail County officials found an innovative and inexpensive way to collect geographical data - from the air. Then the federal government got in the way. Now officials are hoping to get the program off the ground once again.

Otter Tail County officials found an innovative and inexpensive way to collect geographical data - from the air. Then the federal government got in the way. Now officials are hoping to get the program off the ground once again.

It's held together by orange duct tape and rubber bands.

Brian Armstrong – Otter Tail County GIS Department: "Right now you could buy this RC Aircraft at any hobby store."

Brian Armstrong with Otter Tail County's Geographic Information Systems Department got this aircraft to map out ditches and potential drainage routes.

Brian Armstrong: "It was very cheap, excellent photography and fast."

This aircraft weighs just six pounds. In fact, I can lift it with just one hand. This GPS system makes it an unmanned aerial vehicle and that puts it on the FAA radar screen.

Brian Armstrong: "We have to understand that UAV's, unauthorized air vehicles are anywhere in size from six inches to a couple hundred feet in size and there really isn't a categorization of those yet."

Armstrong says the FAA is worried about safety and sight. So in 2007, a year after he got the plane, he was asked to get a certificate of authorization. That involved limited flying routes and two pilots present during flight.

Brian Armstrong: "They wanted those pilots to have a certified pilots license. They also wanted the ground crew and the pilots to have specific airman physicals."

The requirements were costly and eventually the plane was put back inside its box, its wings clipped.

Brian Armstrong: "Yeah it is frustrating a lot of time and effort worked into making this program work."

Armstrong hopes the FAA will loosen its regulations next year, but until that happens this plane is staying on the ground.

Citizens can take photos from model airplanes without FAA permission. They just can't sell those photos.

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