Essential Guide to Drone Laws in Montana: Rules and Updates for 2024

Last Updated: 12:10, 9 April 2024
author icon Written By: Benjamin Wilson

A blue road sign that reads 'Welcome to Montana' featuring a drone flying overhead.

Looking to fly a drone in Montana? Whether you’re capturing the state’s majestic landscapes or flying for commercial purposes, it’s crucial to comply with the drone laws Montana enforces. From Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations to Montana’s own state statutes and local ordinances, this guide covers everything you need to understand before taking off. Learn about registration requirements, Remote Pilot Certificates, no-fly zones, and privacy considerations in a concise, no-nonsense introduction to Montana’s drone laws.

Key Takeaways

  • Drone operations in Montana must comply with FAA regulations, including drone registration, Remote ID implementation, Remote Pilot Certification for commercial use, and adherence to specific flying rules such as maintaining visual line of sight and altitude restrictions.

  • Montana state laws complement federal regulations with additional rules, such as requiring permits for flying in state parks, restricting drone use for interference with wildlife, and limiting drone data usage by law enforcement without proper warrants.

  • Drone pilots must be mindful of local ordinances which can vary by jurisdiction, respect privacy concerns by not overflying private property without consent, and ensure ethical flying practices in noise-sensitive areas, during emergencies, and for obtaining imagery.

Understanding Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Regulations in Montana

FAA Regulations in Montana

To become a responsible drone pilot, one must first grasp the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations governing drone operations. As the primary regulator for drone operations across the United States, the FAA oversees the national airspace and mandates drone registration. This means if you’re piloting a drone in the scenic state of Montana, you’re subject to these federal regulations. These not only involve avoiding manned aircraft but also obtaining a Remote Pilot Certificate if you’re operating commercially.

The FAA regulations also require drones to be equipped with a Remote ID. This digital identification system broadcasts crucial identification and location information, and is set to be fully implemented from September 16, 2023, enhancing the safety and security of the airspace for everyone.

Additional rules under FAA’s Part 107 govern drone pilots operating commercially and government drone pilots. This includes registering government-operated drones and the ability to request waivers for certain Part 107 restrictions, provided they can ensure an equivalent level of safety for their proposed operations.

Whether you’re zipping your drone over Montana’s breathtaking landscapes or using it for government operations, it’s crucial to adhere to the FAA regulations. Remember, drones are allowed in public spaces, subject to these regulations, and government drone operations are expressly regulated, requiring proper registration.

Registration and Remote Pilot Certification

A few key steps are involved in getting your drone airborne. First, drones weighing more than 0.55 lbs must be registered with the FAA, costing $5 for a three-year validity period. Each drone intended for Part 107 operations must be registered through the FAA’s DroneZone and marked with the registration number. This is a small but crucial step in becoming a lawful drone operator in Montana.

But what about those considering commercial operations? In that case, you need to secure a Remote Pilot Certificate. To be eligible, you must be at least 16 years old, capable of reading, speaking, writing, and understanding English, plus meet certain physical and mental condition requirements. Securing this certification involves passing an aeronautical knowledge test or, if you’re already a Part 61 pilot certificate holder, completing a small UAS online training course.

Safety Guidelines and Airspace Restrictions

Adhering to a few key guidelines ensures safe navigation of Montana skies. For starters, drone pilots are required to maintain a visual line of sight with their drones throughout the flight. This ensures control and adherence to FAA regulations.

If you’re planning to fly in controlled airspace, you’ll need to secure authorization. This can be obtained through the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) or the FAA’s DroneZone for manual processing. Drone flights at night and during twilight are permissible if the drone is equipped with anti-collision lighting. Pilots must abide by the maximum altitude restriction of 400 feet above ground level or within a 400-foot radius of a structure.

For accurate real-time updates on airspace restrictions and weather conditions, drone flight apps come highly recommended. And remember, as a drone operator, it’s your ethical responsibility to ensure your flights do not endanger public safety, private property, or wildlife.

Special Rules for Recreational Flyers

A special set of rules governs those who fly drones for fun. The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) is mandatory for recreational drone pilots in Montana. TRUST ensures drone operators understand safety and regulatory information, and is accessible online from FAA-approved Test Administrators.

After completing TRUST, it’s important to:

  • Save, download, or print out your certificate. This serves as proof when asked by law enforcement.

  • If you lose the certificate, you’ll have to retake the test to obtain a new one.

  • But don’t worry, there are plenty of educational resources available from the FAA’s Know Before You Fly campaign to help recreational flyers stay informed and safe.

Navigating State Drone Laws in Montana

Wildlife and Conservation Area Restrictions in Montana

Though federal regulations set by the federal government provide a general framework for drone operations, understanding state-specific rules is equally significant. In Montana, the Legislature and the Department of Transportation have enacted supplemental rules for drone operations within the state to complement federal drone laws.

Senate Bill SB 196, for example, focuses on law enforcement and pertains to the restricted use of data gathered from unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for legal evidence. This law limits any information obtained from the use of drones to only be admitted in Montana courts as evidence if acquired legally with a search warrant or through a judicially recognized exception, safeguarding individuals’ privacy. This is a unique aspect of Montana drone laws that underscores the state’s commitment to privacy.

Wildlife and Conservation Area Restrictions

Montana’s unique landscapes and rich wildlife populations add another layer of considerations for drone pilots. As a general rule, launching or operating drones in Montana state parks requires a permit. Specific areas within these parks are designated for drone use, or a commercial or special use permit can be obtained for more extensive operations.

However, Montana’s state laws explicitly ban the use of drones for the disturbance of wildlife or for capturing footage of hunting activities. To minimize the impact on wildlife, drone operators should:

  • Launch at least 100 meters away from animals

  • Maintain a significant altitude

  • Fly steadily

  • Avoid making a vertical approach to animals or birds.

In emergency situations like wildfires, comprehending the legal boundaries for drone use becomes essential. Montana’s HB 664 and similar legislative measures like SB 219 strictly prohibit the operation of drones in a manner that obstructs, impedes, prevents, or interferes with the lawful aerial wildfire suppression efforts carried out by state or local government. This legislation effectively prohibits local governments from allowing unauthorized drone use during these critical operations.

Penalties for violating these prohibitions include a criminal misdemeanor, fines up to $1,500, and potential jail time of up to six months. In addition to these legal penalties, drone pilots found obstructing firefighting efforts may be held financially liable for costs equivalent to any damage caused by their interference.

These laws highlight the serious responsibility held by drone pilots during emergency situations in Montana.

Local Ordinances Impacting Drone Pilots in Montana

Montana drone pilots should be mindful of local ordinances in addition to federal and state laws. These rules can vary by jurisdiction and may exist in addition to federal regulations. It’s always a good idea to check with local jurisdictions for the latest drone regulations to ensure compliance.

For instance, as of October 2021, there were no specific city ordinances found online that differentiate from state drone laws in the City of Bozeman. Similarly, the City of Helena lacked specific local drone ordinances beyond state and federal regulations as of the latest available information.

Nonetheless, be aware that local governments might have their own rules or privacy concerns related to drone usage. Therefore, it’s always best to consult with local entities and understand their specific requirements and concerns.

City-Specific Regulations

While many cities in Montana don’t have specific drone ordinances beyond state and federal regulations, some cities do have additional rules. In Missoula, drone pilots need to get written consent before taking off or flying drones in restricted areas like public parks or conservation lands. This requirement helps ensure responsible and safe drone operation in the city. This underscores the importance of checking local regulations before flying your drone.

However, as of the latest update in October 2021, the City of Bozeman, Montana has no specific city ordinances imposing stricter drone controls than those already established by state or federal laws. It’s a reminder that while some cities may have specific rules, others might not.

Drones and Privacy Concerns

Another significant consideration when flying drones in Montana is privacy concerns. In the state, it’s legal to fly drones over private property as long as the drone does not hover around or capture imagery of the property without permission.

Privacy laws affecting drone use are complex and can vary, which is why local law enforcement should be consulted for clarification on privacy concerns. Drone operators are encouraged to respect privacy by not flying over private property without permission and avoiding capturing images or videos that infringe on personal privacy.

Ethical drone usage entails careful consideration before capturing and releasing images of individuals and culturally sensitive sites to avoid privacy violations.

Operating Drones Responsibly: Best Practices

Responsible Drone Operation Practices

Responsible drone operation extends beyond simply complying with laws and regulations. It also includes considering environmental impacts and the ecological footprint of drone production and disposal, particularly in residential areas. Flying drones in noise-sensitive areas such as campgrounds, trailheads, and visitor centers in Montana is discouraged to avoid disturbances.

Moreover, at the end of their lifecycle, drones should be properly disposed of to prevent environmental contamination. This demonstrates a commitment to ethical and sustainable practices. After all, as drone pilots, we have the power to contribute to or detract from the beauty of our surroundings, especially in a place as rich and diverse as Montana.

Engaging with Law Enforcement

Drone flights can lead to interactions with law enforcement, and handling these situations appropriately is important. When approached by law enforcement while flying a drone, being cooperative is the recommended approach.

Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Have your FAA registration and remote pilot certificate at hand to show to law enforcement if asked.

  2. Be ready to articulate the purpose of your drone flight.

  3. Show an understanding of applicable local drone laws to assure officers of your legal compliance.

By following these steps, you can help ensure a smooth interaction with law enforcement while flying your drone.

Ethical Considerations for Drone Enthusiasts

Ethical considerations, beyond just legal compliance, play a significant role in operating drones responsibly. Using Remote ID systems enhances safety, security, and accountability within the airspace through better identification and tracking of drones.

Moreover, ensuring equitable access to drone technology helps address the ‘drone divide,’ promoting ethical use across diverse populations and locations. And of course, by avoiding flights over wildlife or sensitive environments, drone pilots can minimize disturbance and stress to animals, aligning with ethical environmental considerations.

The Path to Commercial Drone Operations

Commercial Drone Operations in Montana

A defined path exists for those considering commercial drone operations. To operate drones commercially in Montana, individuals must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS Rating by passing the FAA Part 107 knowledge test. Government employees in Montana, such as police or fire department personnel, may operate drones under the FAA’s Part 107 rule or obtain a federal Certificate of Authorization (COA).

Preparing for FAA's Certification Process

Preparation for FAA certification marks a critical step towards commercial drone operations. Prospective commercial drone pilots can prepare for the Part 107 exam through study materials and training programs. The FAA provides a free Study Guide to support individuals in preparing for the Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS Rating Airman Knowledge Test.

When ready to take the Part 107 Knowledge Test, locations for test centers are accessible through the FAA’s website. For Part 107 certification, pilots must have their drones equipped with an FAA-approved Remote ID and update their FAA DroneZone registrations with the Remote ID serial numbers.

Additional Permits and Clearances

Besides FAA certification, commercial drone operators in Montana may need to secure additional permits and clearances. These may be required for flying in certain areas or near specific landmarks, or for activities that could impact wildlife or conservation efforts.

Moreover, research and development companies may need additional clearances for using drones in specialized activities like fire management, 3D mapping, and safety inspections. Flying drones for activities like commercial photography and filming over private property is generally permitted, but considerations for homeowner consent and privacy must be observed.

Recreational Drone Flying in Montana

Recreational Drone Flying in Montana

Montana offers a wealth of opportunities for those who engage in recreational drone flying. However, recreational drone pilots with drones weighing at least 0.55 pounds must register their drones with the FAA for $5, which is valid for three years. Additionally, recreational drone pilots are required to take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and must carry proof of passing the certificate when flying.

Recreational flyers must follow certain rules when flying drones:

  • Fly at or below authorized altitudes, which include obtaining prior FAA authorization for controlled airspace and flying at or below 400 feet in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace.

  • When flying in national forests, keep the drone below 400 feet and stay clear of surrounding obstacles.

  • Drones are not permitted to take off from, land in, or operate from congressionally designated wilderness areas within national forests.

Where to Fly: Parks and Public Lands

Montana’s stunning landscapes are an inviting playground for drone pilots. However, drone pilots are generally prohibited from launching or operating within designated no-fly zones in Montana, which include state parks unless authorized by a permit or a designated area by the park manager.

To minimize noise pollution and avoid disturbing wildlife, drone pilots are advised to use the quietest drones possible when flying in parks and public lands. Remember, responsible drone operation safeguards both the natural environment and the enjoyment of others.

Special Cases and Exceptions in Montana Drone Laws

While Montana’s drone laws are generally straightforward, there are special cases and exceptions to keep in mind. For example, in Montana, prosecutors are restricted from using data obtained via drones as evidence unless the information was gathered with a valid warrant or falls under a recognized judicial exception.

For government drone operators in Montana, specific laws and guidelines can be found in resources provided by regulators and other credible sources listed below. These special cases underscore the complexity and specificity of drone laws in Montana.

No-Fly Zones and Sensitive Areas in Montana

Drone flying doesn’t mean unrestricted access to all skies. Awareness of certain no-fly zones and sensitive areas in Montana is essential. Unmanned aircraft systems, drones, or model aircraft are generally prohibited from launching or operating within these designated zones, which include state parks unless authorized by a permit or designated area by the park manager.

Also, drone operators must avoid flying in restricted areas such as near airports, military bases, or national parks, to prevent interference with manned aircraft and respect established no-fly zones. Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) can also be imposed, prohibiting drones from flying in specific areas during times of emergency, such as wildfires.

To legally operate a drone in no-fly zones or areas with operational limitations in Montana, drone pilots should be informed about the requirement of having flight authorizations or permits, which can be obtained through the proper channels.


As we’ve seen, operating a drone in Montana involves navigating a web of federal, state, and local regulations. From registering your drone and understanding FAA regulations to respecting Montana’s unique wildlife and landscapes, there are many facets to becoming a responsible drone pilot.

Whether you’re a commercial operator or a recreational flyer, understanding and respecting drone laws not only ensures your legal compliance but also contributes to the safe and harmonious use of airspace. Remember, every flight you take is an opportunity to demonstrate responsible drone use and set a positive example for others.

So next time you prepare for takeoff, remember to check local regulations, respect privacy and wildlife, and always prioritize safety. By doing so, you can enjoy the thrill of flight while preserving Montana’s stunning landscapes for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can you fly a drone in Montana state parks?

A: No, flying a drone in Montana state parks is prohibited unless authorized by a commercial use or special use permit, or within a specifically designated area for such use.

Q: Can I fly my drone at Yellowstone?

A: No, drone use is generally banned in Yellowstone National Park, but it is possible to obtain a permit for commercial drone use on a case-by-case basis. However, several drone laws must be followed when flying in the park.

Q: What drones can you fly without a license?

A: You can fly drones weighing 0.55 pounds or less without a license, as long as they are flown exclusively for recreational purposes and under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations.

Q: Does the FAA know when I fly my drone?

A: Yes, the FAA can use Remote ID to locate the control station of a drone if it appears to be flying unsafely or in restricted areas, providing a mechanism for safety and security.

Q: Do I need to register my drone in Montana?

A: Yes, drones weighing more than 0.55 lbs must be registered with the FAA in Montana, costing $5 for a three-year validity period.

Meet the tester

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Benjamin Wilson
Benjamin, with a background in naval architecture, is passionate about RC boats. From sailboats to speedboats, he's sailed them all. Based in Florida, he's our anchor when it comes to all things aquatic in the RC world.
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