New FAA Drone Rules Put Technology in Farmers’ Hands

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) yesterday announced its final rule governing commercial uses of small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or drones.


“We’re pleased that the FAA recognizes the important commercial applications for UAS technology, and has created rules that will put the technology in farmers’ hands,” said Maryland farmer Chip Bowling, President of National Corn Growers Association.


“As with any technology, unmanned aerial systems can make farms safer, more efficient, and more sustainable. That’s good for farmers, consumers, and the environment. That’s why NCGA has taken a leadership role on this issue from the beginning, working with the UAS industry, federal regulators, and others to create reasonable rules and regulations for this technology.”


The rule, which goes into effect in August, simplifies the process for the commercial use of drones. Previously, the FAA only authorized commercial uses on a case-by-case basis. Under the new rule, drones weighing less than 55 pounds can fly at altitudes of up to 400 feet and up to 100 miles per hour during the day. Drones must stay within the operator’s visual line of sight. The rule bans nighttime operation without an FAA waiver; operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft; and carrying hazardous materials.


Commercial drone pilots must be at least 16 years of age and must obtain a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be under direct supervision of someone who holds one. To qualify, they must pass an aeronautical knowledge test and go through a vetting process with the Transportation Security Administration. Recreational drone operators are still required to register their hobby drones.


The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) estimates that agriculture will account for as much as 80 percent of all commercial UAS use. Applications of unmanned aerial systems include crop scouting; early detection of pest infestations and crop disease; more precise application of fertilizers and other crop inputs; and reducing the need for humans in potentially dangerous tasks.


“These are common-sense rules that create a culture of safety and responsibility, while ensuring farmers have the access, tools, and training to take full advantage of UAS technology,” said Bowling.