Mixed Reaction on New Drone Regs

Mixed Reaction on New Drone Regs

The ag industry is mostly supportive of proposed FAA rules, with some exceptions

On Feb. 15, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a much-anticipated list of requirements it wants to place on small drones for civilian uses, including applications in the ag industry. These proposed requirements include passing a knowledge test and a federal security check. Small drones would be allowed to operate as fast as 100 mph and at altitudes of 500' or lower.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” says Michael Huerta, FAA administrator. “We want to maintain today’s level of aviation safety without placing 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. In the 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 Class B, C, D and E airspace. We are also relieved FAA is not proposing any new regulation of recreational users.”

However, the Small UAV Coalition says the FAA proposal:

  • doesn’t allow anyone not directly involved in the operation to fly.
  • doesn’t address companies testing on private property near their facilities.
  • limits operation to daytime flights.
  • limits flight altitude to 500'.
  • limits flying to within line-of-sight of the operator.

Even though the proposal falls short in these five areas, group members say the proposal is still a big step in the right direction.

“We are confident these proposed rules are appropriately aligned with the needs of our clients,” says Christopher Dean, CEO, PrecisionHawk. “This is a great start for the integration of safe and reliable systems into the U.S. airspace.”

Others are not so positive. Tech blog Gizmodo calls the proposal a job killer. 

“The visual line-of-sight restriction would hamper drones’ often-touted role in agriculture,” says Adam Clark Estes, senior writer, Gizmodo. 

“Camera-equipped quadcopters can help farmers monitor if their irrigation systems are working, see how plants are growing and even check if 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' altitude limit could quash,” he says.

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. 

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