On February 15, the Federal Aviation Administration released a much-anticipated list of requirements it wants to place on small drones for civilian uses, including numerous applications in the agriculture industry.
These proposed requirements include passing a knowledge test administered by the agency as well as a federal security check. Small drones would be allowed to operate as fast as 100 mph and at altitudes of 500 feet or lower.
"We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules," says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "We want to maintain today's outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry."
The public will be able to comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which can be found at www.regulations.gov. Meantime, the proposed regulations have already received mixed responses from industry groups such as the Small UAV Coalition, which released a statement soon after the FAA announcement.
“In particular, we support the FAA’s proposal not to require an airworthiness certificate for small UAVs, and to eliminate any requirement for a pilot to obtain manned aircraft flying experience or a medical exam,” the group writes. “We also support permitting operation within Cass B, C, D, and E airspace. We are also relieved that FAA is not proposing any new regulation of recreational users.”
However, the Small UAV Coalition also says the FAA proposal falls short in five areas, including:
- The proposal doesn’t allow anyone not directly involved in the operation to fly.
- The proposal doesn’t address companies testing on private property near their facilities.
- The proposal limits operations to daytime flights.
- The proposal limits flight altitude to 500 feet.
- The proposal limits flying to within line-of-sight of the operator.
Still, group members say the proposal is still a big step in the right direction.
“We are confident that these proposed rules are appropriately aligned with the needs of our clients,” says PrecisionHawk CEO Christopher Dean. “This is a great start for the integration of safe and reliable systems into the U.S. airspace.
Others are not so optimistic. Tech blog Gizmodo calls the proposal a job killer.
“The visual line-of-sight restriction would also hamper drones' often-touted role in agriculture,” says writer Adan Clark Estes. “Camera-equipped quadcopters can help farmers monitor if their irrigation systems are working, how their plants are growing, even see if any of the plants are sick by using thermal and hyperspectral cameras. However, some farms are pretty big—bigger than the eye can see. [And] what the visual line of sight restriction doesn't hamper, the 500-foot altitude limit could quash.”
Separate from this proposal, the FAA intends to hold public meetings to discuss innovation and opportunities at the test sites and Center of Excellence. These meetings will be announced in a future Federal Register notice.
What do you think of the FAA proposals? Weigh in on the AgWeb technology discussion forums.